Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Home News Muddled maths and the hard lessons of home-schooling

Muddled maths and the hard lessons of home-schooling

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PARENTS who are home-schooling their children during the current Covid-19 lockdown are struggling to make sense of how children are taught maths these days.

‘It’s clear things are taught very differently from when I was at school,’ one mum told the Telegraph. ‘Not sure who will be teaching who in the next few weeks. I dare not open the maths folder – Kryptonite,’ commented another. 

How much easier it has been for parents in virus-hit China and South Korea. The more traditional teaching methods used in these states are comparatively easy to understand. Their use explains why, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), our 15-year-olds are lagging up to three years behind those in much of the Asia-Pacific.

A BBC investigation discovered that pupils in South Korea equated the level of GCSE mathematics to what they had learned in primary school. Fifteen minutes was all it took for them to complete a GCSE maths exam.  

Nor can we here in the UK take any comfort from the performance of our social elite, including those who can afford expensive private schooling. Back in 2014, the OECD was reporting that the children of factory workers and janitors in the Asia-Pacific were attaining more highly than the offspring of lawyers and doctors in the UK. 

The Department for Education could not for ever turn a blind eye to this educational calamity. It has recently been encouraging schools here to learn from and adopt aspects of Asia-Pacific teaching methods – aka teacher-led 1950s-style UK teaching. 

Chinese teachers have even been enticed to our shores to convert teachers here to teaching methods that actually work. They are engaged in an evangelical mission for maths teaching that parallels our despatching of missionaries to China to win converts to Christianity during the 19th century.

The most recent OECD PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests suggest that the initiative is having some success. The UK is up from 27th to 18th in mathematics. This is almost back to where we were when the first PISA maths test was introduced in 2003.

The second-rate teaching of maths, though, remains widespread. Indeed, a substantial proportion of those teaching the subject in primary schools have no more than a grade C in GCSE – the equivalent of a certificate of incompetence in the subject. Child-centred group work based on ‘discovery’ methods have a seductive attraction, since they allow teachers off the hook of subject competence.

In the UK, traditional teaching methods, even simple ones such as the rote learning of tables and of number bonds are still frowned upon in many schools for stifling creativity and self-expression.

Worse, the view of the Blob – the bureaucrats, academics and teachers’ unions generally thwarting educational changes – tends to be that we have nothing to learn from the Asia-Pacific. Rather, they have everything to learn from us.

The Blob, for once, is not completely wrong. In the teaching of the arts, for example, especially in our independent sector, we are amongst the best in the world. The minds of so many in education, however, are closed even to the possibility that our UK ‘experts’ may have got some things wrong with regard to other subjects.

Parents who are now having to home-school their children should have the confidence to rely on common sense. Exposure to the teaching gobbledegook that is likely to be sent out online by some schools could be an eye-opener. 

A bit of of the professional mystique surrounding the process of teaching, based as it often is on the bogus, hocus-pocus, witch-doctoring powers of the Blob, may soon be rumbled.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovernhttp://www.cre.org.uk
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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