Education Minister Hekia Parata is considering a return
to basic arithmetic for primary school children in an attempt
to lift New Zealand's faltering performance in maths.
New Zealand 9-year-olds finished equal last in maths among
peers in developed countries in a survey published in
December. Almost half could not add 218 and 191 in a test.
Officials analysing the results of the Trends in
International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) test
found there were ''significant proportions'' of year 5
children who could not add or subtract simple numbers.
The problem persisted into high school, where ''there are
still students who have difficulty with the very basics, such
as knowledge about whole numbers and decimals''.
The findings are supported by a local study which found most
older children at an Auckland primary school were unable to
do basic arithmetic.
Auckland educator Dr Des Rainey, who did the research with
teachers to test his home-made Kiwi Maths memorisation
system, said the results came as a shock to the teachers and
made him doubt his programme could work.
But after a year of practising multiplication and division on
the Kiwi Maths grids for up to 10 minutes a day, the pupils
more than doubled their speed, cutting their response times
to as low as three seconds for each answer.
Ms Parata said yesterday she had asked Ministry of Education
officials to talk to Dr Rainey about his methods and report
back to her on whether they could be used to improve teaching
in other schools.
She described the TIMSS results as ''extremely concerning'',
especially for a Government that wanted to get more students
into mathematically demanding professions, such as
information technology and engineering.
''It's a wake-up call to us that we do have some system level
problems with how mathematics is being taught and how our
kids are understanding it.''
Ms Parata said the maths curriculum made it clear that
children needed to learn both problem-solving techniques and
memorisation of basic facts, not one or the other.
Auckland University mathematics lecturer Peter Hughes, who
played a prominent part in introducing the changes criticised
by Dr Rainey, said it was true that many pupils reached high
school without numeracy skills and Dr Rainey's system would
help them to learn their basic facts.
But he cautioned against any ''back to basics'' push that put
huge emphasis on arithmetic at the expense of wider maths
knowledge, such as geometry.
He dismissed worries that New Zealand children could no
longer do long multiplication or division as irrelevant, as
history had moved on.
''In the real world, calculators and computers are doing this
rote work, leaving people, hopefully, to think, rather that
spend time on tedious labour.''
- Andrew Laxon.