British Columbia should look to the East for lessons in how to teach math and science because its current approach is not preparing students for the modern world, says a group of Chinese-educated tutors who are lobbying for curriculum change.
The tutors, who have formed the Educational Quest Society, say they have valuable insight because they were educated in China, earned graduate degrees in the West and have worked for many years in Metro Vancouver as private tutors. In their dealings with struggling students, they say they learned about the inadequacies of the math and science curriculum in K-12 schools.
“It’s weak and getting weaker,” said Sharon Shen, who owned and operated a tutoring school called Elite Education Centre in Burnaby and Richmond for more than a dozen years before her recent retirement. “We feel there is a crisis.”
Although B.C. teachers do not agree, John Yuan, also a society member, said he began noticing a drop in math standards in particular 10 years ago and now sees many students who lack a basic foundation. They make simple mistakes, such as thinking that 7.52 is larger than 7.9, he said.
For proof of a performance decline, the society points to the latest results from the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP), which tested the math skills of 32,000 Grade 8 students from across the country in 2010. While those in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta had results equal to or above the Canadian average, B.C. participants fell below.
Rankings are not as important as the message they send, the society says. International assessments focus on the skills students need for life in the modern world and thus the scores “are actually indicators of our children’s future and (the) competency of our economy in the world.”
The society says there are many important differences between B.C. and China when it comes to teaching math and science, and those have led to runaway success for certain Chinese students in international assessments. For example, Chinese schools place greater emphasis on basic concepts, assign more homework and employ teachers with special math training (which is not the case in B.C. elementary schools).
But its main beef is with a recent education ministry decision to drop all Grade 12 provincial exams except English 12 or its equivalent. That, according to the society, has had a negative impact on educational standards, student motivation, teacher enthusiasm and public accountability.
Jerry Mussio, an education consultant who was Canada’s representative in the development of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) between 2000 and 2004, has also issued a warning about B.C.’s declining standards and international assessment results and shares the society’s dismay over the loss of many provincial exams.
But he said China, which emphasizes rote learning from textbooks, could also learn from B.C.’s concentration on problem solving and creativity. During a meeting with society members earlier this month, he noted the ministry is reviewing the Grade 12 graduation program as part of the B.C. Education Plan and urged them to join the discussions.
Teachers have different views about the value of provincial exams, said Chris Becker, president of the B.C. Association of Mathematics Teachers. But there is no widespread concern that standards have deteriorated as a result of that change or that courses have been watered down, he said.
“We’re always trying to improve the curriculum, but we’re not going to satisfy every stakeholder group.”
A new math curriculum has been implemented over the past two years and introduced in Grade 12 only this year. Therefore, he said any complaints about the competencies of senior students would pertain to the old curriculum, not the new one.
While the new curriculum isn’t perfect, it is better than the old one, he said, noting that it emphasizes understanding concepts, not memorizing formulas.
Becker acknowledged that China places more weight on math education than Canada does, but said that isn’t necessarily positive, especially if it means young children are over-burdened with homework. “It might be a little bit better for their understanding of raw facts and mathematical (concepts), but we’re also trying to create students who are productive in whatever field they choose.”
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