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No (Rich) Child Left Behind…

By Murray Bourne, 04 Jul 2005

It seems to me that there is a critical shortage of qualified, enthusiastic and capable mathematics teachers in schools in Western countries.

Certainly this is the case in Australia, where the number of students signing up for mathematics teaching is pitiful (there were 6 in Queensland state in the year that I left - that's right, just 6).

In the US, the situation in public schools sounds quite bad, according to Alternatives in Education in the San Francisco Chronicle (article no longer available). The article describes how interested teachers are shown the door because they are not "qualified", while part-time replacement teachers (who are not specialists) take their place. In private (rich) schools, the interested teachers get a job.

See also my earlier rave on this issue.

How do we solve this conundrum?

  1. In Asia, mathematics teachers are still "valued" by society and the teaching profession is still something that "good" people go into. In Western countries, teaching is always seen as a"last resort" job, for those who don't have anywhere else to go. So, raise the profile and the status of teachers.
  2. Change the mathematics syllabus so that it is more "real". Currently, most mathematics is just algebra. No-one knows why they are doing it or how it is used (including the teacher a lot of the time). More problem-based approaches should be used and it should be fun.
  3. Use technology appropriately. A lot of mathematics is no longer necessary - let the computer do those parts and let humans do what they do best - solve problems.

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