3 Oct 2021

Panel calls for sweeping changes to maths teaching

1:40 pm on 3 October 2021

An expert panel charged with reviewing the maths curriculum has exceeded its brief and called for a major overhaul of maths teaching in schools.

Student holding pencils for math calculation, homework.

Student completing maths homework. Photo: 123RF

The panel's report published today said the stakes were high for the entire nation and improving New Zealand's maths performance would require sweeping changes.

The panel convened by the Royal Society of New Zealand to advise the Education Ministry said children in Years 0-10 should learn maths for at least an hour a day.

It said teachers needed to stop grouping children by their perceived ability and introduce more complex maths concepts earlier in their education.

The panel's chairperson Massey University professor Gaven Martin told RNZ there was a systemic failure across the country in the teaching of mathematics.

"It's incredibly urgent. We've seen a decline in mathematical ability over the last two decades. Everybody in the Ministry of Education knows about this and they've been unable to do anything. We suggest some strategies for at least attempting to move in a better direction," he said.

"Our kids are not smarter or dumber than the rest of the world but we've set up a system that slows them down so that most children by the time they get to the end of their schooling are not at the correct curriculum level although that's what they're being examined on, a rather pointless situation."

Professor Martin said schools needed better leadership from the ministry or government so they could improve.

He said teachers were not to blame for the problem but many needed upskilling in their mathematical abilities.

The report said the ministry should clarify what students should learn and when, citing "severe slippage" in what students learned compared with what was expected in the curriculum.

It noted that 55 percent of Year 8 students were working below the level expected of them.

The report also called for better tests so teachers and students could understand children's performance, better classroom resources, and more training for teachers.

It recommended the government create roles with higher pay for teachers who undertook maths training.

The report said concepts that should be taught to children earlier included understanding the equals sign and percentages, more focus on fractions at Level One of the curriculum and earlier introduction of percentages and decimals from Year 4 onwards.

The report said too much time was spent teaching very young children how to count.

"This drawn-out focus on counting strategies may substantially delay children's progress and prevent opportunities for richer mathematical learning at a young age," the report said.

The report was also critical of the decentralised system of providing professional development to teachers because it did not ensure schools were getting the most effective advice on how to teach maths.

The National Party said it believed deeper flaws in the education system are to blame for poor results in maths.

Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said the government needed to listen to the recommendations.

He said there was an element of complacency in the education system, and the country had fallen off the pace in maths.

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