Back to the basics

Sometimes it takes forever for that pendulum to swing back from the extremes and land in the middle, but, alas, the Alberta government’s draft K-4 curriculum seems to have re-found that practical middle when it comes to teaching math.

In today’s digital-driven job market, math, science and, of course, reading are absolutely critical.

We’ve done well at sustaining our reading and science rankings worldwide, but the same cannot be said for math.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) triennially measures 15-year olds in 72 countries on math, science and reading.

In 2012, Canada ranked seventh in math, by 2015 its ranking fell to tenth and when the 2018 rankings are reported, it is anticipated Canada’s ranking will fall again.

Employers have been demanding higher math skills for years and often have had no choice but to hire people from other countries to fill high-paying technical positions.

Concerned parents, who could afford the expense, have taken to hiring tutors to give their children math success and many elementary educators lament the de-emphasis on memorizing basic math facts.

That’s all about to change. David Eggen, Minister of Education, announced that the new K-4 curriculum will place more emphasis on rote learning (memorization technique based on repetition) and traditional calculation methods, such as stacking numbers for addition and subtraction.

Children will be expected to memorize both timetables and addition and subtraction numbers. Additionally, students in grade one will be introduced to basic fractions, and more emphasis will be given to working with money and manipulating two- and three-dimensional objects.

The provincial government is also proposing that student teachers be required to take more math courses before earning a teaching degree, regardless of what specialty they have chosen.

A grasp of basic number facts, geometry and algebraic reasoning is shown to improve a person’s ability to solve problems and develop abstract thinking.

These are absolute skills necessary if today’s youth are going to compete successfully in tomorrow’s economy.

The country that scores number one in math competency and collaborative problem solving is Singapore.

They use traditional pedagogy– teachers lead the class; math focuses on a narrower but deeper curriculum; struggling kids get compulsory extra sessions; teachers receive 100 hours of designated training each year to sustain competency and consistency; public funds are spent on research; and new strategies are tested, monitored and evaluated before being rolled out to the whole system.

Even better, Singaporean students are found to be happy suggesting structure does bring a sense of security for children.

It is encouraging to see our provincial government’s focus on these critical math building blocks. But they didn’t do it alone. This draft curriculum was developed with more collaboration and input from stakeholders and the public than has ever been done previously on a curriculum rewrite.

The digital economy is new, but the math skills now being promoted have always been important to every generation since the industrial revolution.

In math, as in reading, if you don’t get the basics at each step, you’re forever behind and eventually lost.


B. Schimke

ECA Review

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