If any elementary school student couldn’t nail the test on numeracy basics within 10 minutes, they would not be able to graduate from China’s elementary school. However, only about one-third of Ontario teacher candidates scored at or below 70 percent on the Grade 6- and 7-level math test, a shocking reality faced by Ontario math education system.
Math is fundamental training and essential for students’ future success -- regardless of whether they pursue a STEM career or work in the trade and service industries. However, Ontario students have faced years of math crisis. Despite $60 million increased funding for math education from the province, Ontario math test results continue to decline, with half of the Gr6 students failing EQAO test in 2017, and only 28 percent of G9 students in applied math meeting the standards. One of the root causes of the problem lies with the Ontario teachers’ shockingly weak math skills.
Teachers must have significant expertise in the subject they teach. To give students a glass of water, the teacher must have a bucket of water, says old Chinese idiom. Issues about teachers’ qualifications rose to the top of the national agenda and gained profound importance after a decade-long Cultural Revolution in China depleted the education resources. Many elementary or high school teachers lacked basic knowledge or skills in their teaching field at the time, creating education nightmare that traumatized many students desiring for knowledge and skills.
However, it is incredible to find that Canada, a country known for its best education system in the world is also grappling with severe shortages of qualified math teachers. Research by Ontario educators has painted a shockingly dark picture over math teachers’ qualifications in the province. A report by Ontario college professors has found that 83 percent of Gr 3 teachers and 80 percent of Gr 6 teachers have no postsecondary background in mathematics.
More shockingly, many math teachers in Ontario don’t know how to multiply or divide, and questions on grade-school math would leave them in tears. “They have no idea what a ‘remainder’ is. They think a remainder of 3 is the same as decimal 3,“ said an OISE professor in 2016 in a research project on Ontario school’s math skills.
The questions in the Grade 6- and 7-level math test administered to new math teacher candidates focused on basic level math skills such as converting a percentage into a fraction and multiplying a decimal number by a whole number. With the stunningly high failure rate on such a test, we can’t expect them to be able to teach more complicated math subject such as sine and cosine curves, trigonometry and McDonald's Golden Arches as their Chinese counterparts do. It is unsurprising that some Ontario teachers want to seek the easy route by suggesting the formula of surface area and volume of a triangular prism to be removed from Grade 6 math courses.
While classrooms in Shanghai continue to churn out math geniuses who have swept top prizes in international math competitions, Ontario students are struggling with math fundamentals, pulling their hair out to solve trivia math questions -- along with their teachers. It is a sad reality that those drawn to Canada by its quality education system are let down by the math crisis and the poor quality of math teaching in the country.
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