The primary maths issue that won’t go away

Oh dear, it’s that pesky maths problem that won’t go away, no matter how much Government money is thrown in the wrong direction.

Whilst I would never stand in the way of any initiative that raises the bar for teaching in New Zealand, we do not need specialist maths teachers at the primary school level. What we do need is to stop asking children how they know the answer to 3 + 4 is 7 and if there are other ways to get that answer. Is it any wonder our Year 8 students are ill-prepared for secondary school maths when their precious brain power is wasted on such trivia?

Such patronising recommendations from so-called “specialists” highlight the lack of understanding in New Zealand of what success in maths looks like. It is scandalous that the Ministry of Education continues to cling on to flawed ideals created by people who have no mathematical qualifications or experience, despite every indication our children are failing, year after year. They claim that implementing effective maths teaching and learning in classrooms is “challenging and complex”. It gives the impression they’d rather see students continue to fail at maths than acknowledge the compelling evidence of a quick and effective solution.

The Bring Back Column Addition campaign was never supposed to be a long-term crusade. I thought common sense would prevail; how wrong I was, and how much I have learned about attitudes within the education sector. This campaign will continue until the Minister of Education and her officials acknowledge that the acquisition of basic maths skills is not negotiable. Every child should leave primary school knowing their single digit addition and multiplication facts as well as they know their alphabet. They should be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers fluently. They should be able to work confidently with fractions, decimals and percentages. As clients of the system, every parent should demand this.

Education professor John O’Neill says it would take 20 years to pull this country out of its downward spiral. It may well take that long, but while there are still some practising teachers who can remember life before the dreadful Numeracy Project was dispersed over the country like a gas bomb, let’s harness that experience and give our current children a fighting chance. Teachers, please let your students line up the columns and get them doing maths again. It’s the least you can do for our kids and our country.

Dr Audrey Tan, Mathmo Consulting
May 2016

The Primary Issue: Ministry counts cost of children failing at maths – National – NZ Herald News
• Maths scores have been declining since 2002, with National Standards figures showing one in four are behind in the subject by the time they leave primary school • Ministry – New Zealand Herald