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How dropping maths as a compulsory subject will harm SA

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brianvds
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« on: July 11, 2017, 12:11:06 PM »


How dropping maths as a compulsory subject will harm SA

http://www.iol.co.za/the-star/news/how-dropping-maths-as-a-compulsory-subject-will-harm-sa-10230992


This makes me think of a scene in the movie Amadeus. Mozart learns from Salieri that some so-and-so has been chosen by the emperor as music teacher to his niece. Mozart is outraged: "But that could do actual harm to her musical development!" he shouts.
"Trust me," says Salieri. "Nothing in the world could possibly do any harm to her musical development."
Mozartean giggles ensue.

And thus it is now with our public education system. Nothing in the world can harm it anymore. You cannot damage a building that has already been demolished.

I think I know what they are on about. The issue is very simple: if you keep standards, then huge numbers of students fail, thus leading to clogged-up classes, where grade twos ranging in age from eight to seventeen sit, 120 of them in a class. Thus, you pass most, and they flow through the system, and seeing as they are illiterate anyway, what does it matter whether you required math as subject or not? Replacing the entire syllabus with one designed by Ken Ham would not make any difference at this stage.

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According to Balfour, pupils in grades 7-9 cannot know already whether they wish to pursue a career in maths or not, and this would in turn create a situation where, should the pupils decide to pursue maths, they would not be able to do so.


Trust me, Prof. Balfour, the chances that a kid who gets 30% for grade 9 maths is suddenly going to realize in matric that he wants to be an engineer are pretty slim. And if he does realize it then? What are the chances that he could make it anyway? He probably can't read either.

I don't know if this holds true for all humans, but my personal experience with kids in South Africa is that most of them quite simply do not have the ability to ever understand maths at matric level. In fact, I have only by very rare exception met anyone, including people with matric math, that could do simple applications of grade seven maths (e.g. work out how much water you can collect from a roof, given the roof's dimensions and the rainfall). We might as well stop wasting their time.

The real problem here is that, perhaps partly due to promises made by liberation movements and now the governing party, kids' ambitions and dreams far exceed their abilities and/or work ethic. Perhaps that is what we should work on then. Unfortunately, only parents can really do much about that. How many of us ever paid any heed to a word our teachers said to us? :-)
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Spike
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« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2017, 14:02:14 PM »

And thus it is now with our public education system. Nothing in the world can harm it anymore. You cannot damage a building that has already been demolished.

Sadly, ‘tis true.

The issue is very simple: if you keep standards, then huge numbers of students fail, thus leading to clogged-up classes, where grade twos ranging in age from eight to seventeen sit, 120 of them in a class. Thus, you pass most, and they flow through the system
They certainly view the flow as more important than the quality of education. By the time the chickens come to roost the perpetrators will be out of the picture. Just another example of how the government has no concern for the needs of the citizens.

Pupils in grades 7-9 cannot know already whether they wish to pursue a career in maths or not, and this would in turn create a situation where, should the pupils decide to pursue maths, they would not be able to do so.

Even if they do know what they want to become, it is almost certain they will only find out about the building blocks of education when it is much too late. Children do not usually understand that certain subjects are interdependent. I know I had no idea. I just had the good advice to do all the science & maths I had access to.

Today, most parents aren’t even aware of the importance of maths. We’ve already lost that battle.

I don't know if this holds true for all humans, but my personal experience with kids in South Africa is that most of them quite simply do not have the ability to ever understand maths at matric level. In fact, I have only by very rare exception met anyone, including people with matric math, that could do simple applications of grade seven maths (e.g. work out how much water you can collect from a roof, given the roof's dimensions and the rainfall). We might as well stop wasting their time.

I disagree completely. I can use my own ‘abilities’ as an example. My old school report cards are proof.  When I had a great math teacher, someone who captivated me, I aced. When I had a boring or poor teacher I got very average marks, and increasingly struggled as I got older despite my extremely high aptitude (tested).

The reason for this rough ride became clear more than 30 years later when I was diagnosed with ADHD. When I was interested, I excelled. When I was bored, I read or daydreamed in class. Homework was something that happened to other people. 

Result – I made it HG because I wanted to go to University (although I did not know what I wanted to study until the year after matric and then changed direction anyway – ADHD anyone?). If I had not been aware of the HG requirement for University, I would happily have dropped maths even before school.

The answer is 'teachers' and 'parental involvement'. But, again, we've already lost that battle.
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BoogieMonster
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« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2017, 16:16:28 PM »

Ever meet an old farmer? What about a Welder? Mechanic?

There are people who are not smart. They were never smart, not even in the good old days. My grandfather was a farmer, his dad took him out of school early because he'd "learned enough" and put him to work. My granddad never had matric, and never needed it.

I think the thing that has changed is not the people, it's the demands. Somewhere between when my dad graduated high-school and when I did, the labor market had shifted significantly and suddenly a university education would be the only thing that would "guarantee" you a "professional" career... Matric had become almost a formality for anyone "serious" about a career.

We're expecting today that at least everyone have a matric as a bare minimum to functioning in society. And in a lot of ways that's absolutely true, in fact more and more that's not even enough. The intellectual requirements of the modern world have steadily increased.... But people haven't really changed, and we seem in denial about this. I think yes, some people just do not have the aptitude, but there are also deep cultural barriers that need to move and those things tend to move glacially.

Thing is, in the past these people had stuff to do, but automation is steadily eroding any chance that they had at productive lives. THIS is why now, suddenly, something like this is anathema to social progress. Going about our education system like this is certainly accelerating the process, but the end result I really fear is going to be the same. Uneducated, Uneducatable, even "average IQ" people have an enormous economic sledgehammer headed their way, and I think the impact is going to get redirected at the educated "wealthy".



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brianvds
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« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2017, 04:20:51 AM »

Thing is, in the past these people had stuff to do, but automation is steadily eroding any chance that they had at productive lives. THIS is why now, suddenly, something like this is anathema to social progress. Going about our education system like this is certainly accelerating the process, but the end result I really fear is going to be the same. Uneducated, Uneducatable, even "average IQ" people have an enormous economic sledgehammer headed their way, and I think the impact is going to get redirected at the educated "wealthy".

Also known as "white monopoly capital." So much then for the naive dream that technology would "free us from backbreaking labour" so that we could spend our time on higher pursuits. Most people are not capable of doing that.

Looks like we'll have to throw around more bread and circuses then... :-)
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Spike
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« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2017, 08:40:24 AM »

If I had the money I would drop several hundred computers with internet connections into schools. Block all social media, torrenting sites, some of the more lurid fake news and sensationalist sites - and youtube - and force them to surf every day for a minimum of 2 hours.
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brianvds
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« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2017, 09:09:39 AM »

If I had the money I would drop several hundred computers with internet connections into schools. Block all social media, torrenting sites, some of the more lurid fake news and sensationalist sites - and youtube - and force them to surf every day for a minimum of 2 hours.

Not a bad idea. Of course, some kids would quickly find ways round the blocks, but that's also a good thing: they'll learn something in the process. :-)

Some kinds of social media would actually also be a good thing. It could potentially greatly broaden a township kid's horizons if he could get chatting with people from all over the world, especially if the site is text-based, i.e. he has to type his messages.

One could also prescribe specific YouTube videos, either because a video is a good documentary, or because it is a bad one to be used in a discussion on critical thinking.

But then, I suspect critical thinking is at least partly a genetic thing which cannot be taught.
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Spike
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« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2017, 17:58:33 PM »

There are numerous ways to socialise with peers on the internet other than social media, and anyway, if they want social media, Facebook provides free no-data access. If they need more, they can use the internet to learn skills to earn money to pay for tools to access more.

youtube can be very useful, I use it for work, but I know how easy it is to fall into the bottomless pit ... you start with 'how to tie a knot' and before you know it, it's 8 hours later and you've watched car accidents, funny animals, Judge Judy, opening a fridge without a key, how to take out the back seat of a Huyndai Getz, how to attach outriggers to a canoe, canning meat, the Knysna fire, making a belt from parachute cord, new tiny house designs, how to dye clothes with beetroot ....

They can always earn extra privileges by turning in new projects.

As If.  Sigh.
 
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brianvds
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« Reply #7 on: July 13, 2017, 06:01:48 AM »

There are numerous ways to socialise with peers on the internet other than social media, and anyway, if they want social media, Facebook provides free no-data access. If they need more, they can use the internet to learn skills to earn money to pay for tools to access more.

They could of course always join SA Skeptics online. :-)

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youtube can be very useful, I use it for work, but I know how easy it is to fall into the bottomless pit ... you start with 'how to tie a knot' and before you know it, it's 8 hours later and you've watched car accidents, funny animals, Judge Judy, opening a fridge without a key, how to take out the back seat of a Huyndai Getz, how to attach outriggers to a canoe, canning meat, the Knysna fire, making a belt from parachute cord, new tiny house designs, how to dye clothes with beetroot ....

YouTube is the new TV, except it's more addictive. It is probably a good thing I have a cap on my internet data.

As you point out, none of this will actually happen. Incidentally, what happened to that hare-brained scheme to provide every pupil (yes, pupil, not learner. Pupil.) with a tablet? And have any schools been burned down yet because they couldn't deliver on the promise?
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« Reply #8 on: July 13, 2017, 08:01:05 AM »

I must have missed that promise (of many) - who? what? where?
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Mefiante
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« Reply #9 on: July 13, 2017, 12:09:17 PM »

My own take on the matric-without-maths issue is that it would constitute an abysmal systemic failure of conscientious governance to remove mathematics from the list of compulsory subjects.  I doubt any of the forum regulars will be especially surprised by my stance since my bias in this context is well known to them—or should be by now.  However, my reasoning may hold a few surprises.

The insidious creep of accepting, promoting even, educational poverty is not new in SA, and it’s high time that it was arrested.  Back in the good ol’ bad ol’ days, the Nats already had miseducation tempered to a fine art with their selective treatment of subject matter and content, aided by tendentious didactics.  You don’t need to experience much of social media to see that, pretty much regardless of age group, SAns for the most part fall short on knowledge and education in many areas, including the very basics (the three R’s), often direly so.  (MyNews24 paints a grim portrait, and those contributors are the better-educated people.)  Mathematics education has already been significantly downgraded by introduction several years ago of that mortifying foolishness called “mathematical literacy” that fails even in upholding an utterly wretched pretence.  The abject descent into outcomes-based education, especially in mathematics where rigour and precision are paramount, represents a similarly inane folly.

Mathematics is not just an essential pillar upon which much of progress in science, economics, politics and technology rests.  There’s hardly a human endeavour where it doesn’t show its face, even if only in a cameo role.  More broadly, it encompasses a formal way of thinking about and analysing real-world concepts, circumstances, situations and problems.  It would be incomparably stupid to deny the intrinsic value of the subject.  It’s a language, albeit an extraordinary one, that facilitates abstraction, examination and investigation, and as such it is a prerequisite for success in the modern age.  And all human interactions are founded on language of some kind, which is why basic education universally makes at least one language compulsory.

But people typically are too much attached to their habitual fuzzy thinking, their intuitions and their gut reactions, and so they don’t want to bother.  “Why must I study this?  I’ll never use it again once I have the job I want,” one hears far too often.  Maybe they won’t be solving quadratics or doing geometrical proofs but the meta-education these exercises contain, viz. a principled way of approaching and solving a problem, are of virtually universal application.  And that would be the real harm in the mooted removal of mathematics:  Being okay with sloppy and lazy thinking prevailing in ever-increasing spheres of endeavour.  The overwhelming majority of countries have compulsory basic mathematics education for reasons other than being able to boast calculus-savvy sportsmen, musicians, lawyers and actors.

And, moreover, the anti-maths ethic in SA is a self-sustaining national tragedy that doesn’t seem to attract even a tiny fraction of the attention and remedial treatment it should merit.  What’s worse, it’s being boosted by officialdom’s consideration of this latest proposal.  The connection between adequate basic education and national success is not hard to see, yet it seems to escape the leaky cognition of the powers-that-be, likely because they themselves are the victims of subpar mathematics education.

Finally, and on a slightly more personal note, there’s a general view that mathematically inclined and talented individuals are by their nature not creative.  The implied-but-unstated corollary is that forcing children to learn mathematics impedes their creativity.  Aside from the fact that creativity in and of itself is not automatically a laudable trait and needs to be focussed, the claim of unimaginativeness doesn’t withstand scrutiny in two respects.  First, it misrepresents what mathematics is all about by suggesting that it is entirely mechanical and devoid of inventiveness, whereas its strict methodical discipline is merely a reflection of the framework within which innovation can occur.  Second, it’s my not-so-humble-in-this-particular-instance opinion that mathematicians who work at the frontiers of the subject are head and shoulders the most creative individuals humanity produces because they innovate with marvellous ingenuity at a level of abstraction and within strictures that not even music can rival, developing new ways of reformulating and recombining old ideas, and seeding new ones.

In short, this proposal must not be allowed to succeed because the resultant long-term harm will soon far exceed the discomfort of having many pupils fail the subject.  Children must be exposed to the subject for a significant part of their basic education, even if they consistently fail and progress through school only on maturity-based criteria.  If nothing else, they’ll learn much more about their own limitations and aspirations that way.

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brianvds
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« Reply #10 on: July 13, 2017, 12:41:01 PM »

But people typically are too much attached to their habitual fuzzy thinking, their intuitions and their gut reactions, and so they don’t want to bother.  “Why must I study this?  I’ll never use it again once I have the job I want,” one hears far too often.  Maybe they won’t be solving quadratics or doing geometrical proofs but the meta-education these exercises contain, viz. a principled way of approaching and solving a problem, are of virtually universal application.  And that would be the real harm in the mooted removal of mathematics:  Being okay with sloppy and lazy thinking prevailing in ever-increasing spheres of endeavour.  The overwhelming majority of countries have compulsory basic mathematics education for reasons other than being able to boast calculus-savvy sportsmen, musicians, lawyers and actors.

In principle I would agree - mathematics is not just about solving equations, it is a way of thinking and analyzing. But we are in deeper doo-doo than you think: my personal experience with people tells me that at the moment, the vast bulk of people who do have math at matric level cannot in fact think in this way. They can solve equations (well, they can solve them in the exam, and then promptly forget even that meager skill within a month or two). As I pointed out above, it is by rare exception that I run into a person with matric math who can apply even grade 7 math. Ask them something as elementary as scaling up a recipe that feeds four people to one that will feed seven (a skill they supposedly learn in both grade 7 and in math literacy) and they have no idea how to even begin.

And even worse, I have run into plenty of people with university level math, and indeed with university level math vastly above the level that I managed to reach with my rather puny brain, who ALSO cannot think in this analytical manner.

In other words, at the moment, while math is still required, it is not accomplishing its goal. The question here is not merely at which level we require people to pass math, but what exactly it is that we teach them. Because whatever the freck the kids are being taught at the moment, it ain't math, however many equations they can solve.

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The connection between adequate basic education and national success is not hard to see, yet it seems to escape the leaky cognition of the powers-that-be, likely because they themselves are the victims of subpar mathematics education.

"Eleventy-two million hundred, twenty four, and onety six, and.... heh-heh-heh..."
I think you hit the nail on the head there.

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Finally, and on a slightly more personal note, there’s a general view that mathematically inclined and talented individuals are by their nature not creative.  The implied-but-unstated corollary is that forcing children to learn mathematics impedes their creativity.

Well, I don[t need to tell you that such a notion is nonsense: mathematics in fact requires more imagination and creativity than just about any other subject. That is why it can be such fun.

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In short, this proposal must not be allowed to succeed because the resultant long-term harm will soon far exceed the discomfort of having many pupils fail the subject.

Yeah well, I think it is not just a question of discomfort. We might as well be honest here: it's the black kids who fail*. And thus any system where white kids progress and black ones remain behind is politically unacceptable. That is the hoop through which they have been jumping since the 1990s: finding a sort of holy grail of education that will ensure all population groups can boast exactly the same school results and thus get into the same jobs.

As we can see with this proposal, they have still not accepted reality. They are not likely to either.

As I said before, most of the schools are now so broken they might as well close them down altogether. They are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

* By pointing out reality, I am not in any way, shape or form suggesting that black folks are inherently inferior in maths or IQ. However, tests show what they show and we cannot address a problem if we refuse to accept that it exists in the first place.
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BoogieMonster
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« Reply #11 on: July 13, 2017, 13:21:51 PM »

As I said before, most of the schools are now so broken they might as well close them down altogether. They are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

What? No! This administration is flying high! If anything, they're re-arranging the deck-chairs on the Hindenburg!

If I take "issue" with anything Mefi has said, it's kinda in the same jibe as Brian ... I think the subject most likely to inspire such critical thinking faculties would be physical science, and in that class we got Hypothesis, Testing, Observation, etc. repeated over and over, and know what... Most kids still didn't get it. "So, does that mean I put the blue thing in the red thing right? Just please tell me how to pass."

The school system at some point did kinda devolve into a memorisation and repetition mode where if you just got pupils to do the quadratic algebra equation enough times they could fake understanding it in a test. The point (according to most of the system) is not to understand the subject matter, the point is to get good grades. There's a critical distinction there that is lost on too many people.

Hell, I remember our English teacher giving us tuition on what forms of creative writing were most probable to give us good grades in the matric final. "Creative" writing, as if.

Yeah maths requires creativity, a lot of it and the higher you go the more it requires. Imagination, even. Sadly though, if people are just repeating the same stuff onto paper without truly understanding it the creativity bit cannot possibly be exercised. I guess I'm saying even Mefi is being too optimistic. Sad

The really, really sad bit is I don't really know how you could make those horses drink. Any education system I can imagine will necessarily contain pupils who will do the absolute bare minimum to scrape through without incorporating the lessons taught into their minds.
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« Reply #12 on: July 13, 2017, 14:13:16 PM »

Perhaps what got lost among the attempts to cover my many thoughts on the topic is that the initiative under scrutiny marks a desperate push for finding a quick fix to a serious and pervasive problem that will likely require a few generations to rectify and only gradually get fixed.  Dropping maths is not even close to a fix, quick or otherwise.  In fact, it will only hide the problem and actually aggravate it because it will in effect say that it’s okay to separate people from the subject even further.  There’s the unholy stink of educational wholesomeness playing second fiddle to political intrigues—and that’s a legacy even the bluntest morons in government should not want.

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brianvds
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« Reply #13 on: July 13, 2017, 14:48:08 PM »

Hell, I remember our English teacher giving us tuition on what forms of creative writing were most probable to give us good grades in the matric final. "Creative" writing, as if.

Makes me think now of the amusing story of my nephew Arthur. He's intelligent, very much so, but coasted through most of his school career. His argument was that since it's your matric marks that count, matric is when you should work, not the rest of your school career. So he spent his time playing guitar and assured us he would do well in matric. Yeah, right, we thought. Especially when halfway through matric his marks were still pretty mediocre.

But then he started working, putting in 16 hour days, exactly as he said he would. He made great progress, with everything, except Afrikaans, of which he doesn't speak a word, but had to pass as second language in order to pass matric (another of the government's ill-considered ideas). He eventually started joking that he was going to be the first pupil in history to fail matric with six distinctions (he was pretty sure he would get six distinctions; only the Afrikaans bothered him, particularly the essay he would have to write).

So eventually he made a plan: he went to look at previous Afrikaans papers to see which kinds of topics most often came up for the essay. And then wrote a generic essay in English, which my brother (his father) helped to translate into Afrikaans. So he went into the exam having memorized a generic essay that could be adapted to most of the commonly set topics. Ended up getting 60% for Afrikaans; still doesn't understand a single word of the language. And yes, he did get get distinctions for everything else, becoming probably the most mediocre student ever to nevertheless end up with academic colours.

He's now studying second year math at Wits. He also completed first year music, and is quite the virtuoso on the guitar. But perhaps all of this was despite his schooling rather than thanks to it, and he went to one of the top public schools in the country (King Edward School in Johannesburg).

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The really, really sad bit is I don't really know how you could make those horses drink. Any education system I can imagine will necessarily contain pupils who will do the absolute bare minimum to scrape through without incorporating the lessons taught into their minds.

Someone told me that in Germany, from around grade 3, pupils are put into various streams according to their talents. Including a vocational stream, and I suspect (but I am not at all sure) that for that stream they probably don't need to study much maths. Which is for the best, because as you pointed out, lots of kids just never get it, no matter what you do.

They'll probably never do it that way here, because certain races will end up being far more represented in the vocational stream than others, and we can't have that now, can we? In any event, in my dealings with the youth I have noticed that none of them are willing to do such menial work anyway. Most of them actually looked down upon me for being a mere teacher rather than holding an important and well paying job like their parents.

So, at the moment the fail is so big that the maths for matric issue is perhaps the least of our troubles. By the time kids reach schooling age, half of them are literally brain damaged (as a result of malnutrition and/or emotional and intellectual neglect), after which there is nothing even the best school in the world can do for them. I have dealt with lots of these types of kids. There is not a thing you can do for them, or teach them. You cannot even appoint them as gardeners or petrol pump attendants (and even if you could, most of them are not willing to do such humble work). Teach them critical or abstract thinking? Good luck with that one.

The funny thing is that I am not talking about desperately poor township kids here. These were all kids from quite well off middle class homes. Alas, with virtually all of them the same thing happened: their parents spoiled them rotten in a material sense, but otherwise had virtually no dealings with them. So they grew up emotionally and intellectually completely stunted, while at the same time growing used to a high living standard and always getting whatever they wanted without ever having to work for it. And while they never went hungry, they often had symptoms of malnutrition because of unhealthy eating habits.

So now you had these hugely fat, lazy, entitled but utterly useless individuals drifting through their school careers so they can go get the top jobs they are all convinced they'll get (and the ones with the right political connections no doubt will get those jobs too). This combination of materially spoiling kids while otherwise neglecting them makes for an absolutely toxic combination, and is turning into a national disaster.

Not that I'm complaining too much; I make part of my living out of it. :-)
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« Reply #14 on: July 13, 2017, 14:54:32 PM »

Perhaps what got lost among the attempts to cover my many thoughts on the topic is that the initiative under scrutiny marks a desperate push for finding a quick fix to a serious and pervasive problem that will likely require a few generations to rectify and only gradually get fixed.  Dropping maths is not even close to a fix, quick or otherwise.  In fact, it will only hide the problem and actually aggravate it because it will in effect say that it’s okay to separate people from the subject even further.  There’s the unholy stink of educational wholesomeness playing second fiddle to political intrigues—and that’s a legacy even the bluntest morons in government should not want.

Very true. As I hint at in my previous post, the solution has to start at home, and at preschool level. Pottering around with the matric syllabus is pointless; those kids are already lost. But if we start right now, we can at least save the present cohort of one year-olds, and within three decades we'll start reaping handsome rewards.

Alas, it is as you say: they are scurrying around looking partly for quick fixes, and partly for ways to hide the problem.

To be honest, some friends and I are quite seriously beginning to think of emigration. Perhaps I am too pessimistic? But I don't want to reach retirement age only to find myself in another Zimbabwe, or a civil war, or a refugee camp in Mozambique, dependent on U.N. food parcels.
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« Reply #15 on: July 18, 2017, 07:29:54 AM »

Teaching basic maths in SA—an insider’s view—echoing several of brianvds’s points.

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« Reply #16 on: July 18, 2017, 08:35:57 AM »

Teaching basic maths in SA—an insider’s view—echoing several of brianvds’s points.

'Luthon64


So I'm not the only bad, crazy teacher out there... :-)

One of the things that bother me about this constant talk of upgrading teachers' skills and training is this: among the more successful teachers achieve what they do precisely because they have learned to ignore their "training" (or received no "training" in the first place), and the syllabus along with it. I achieved at least mild success at getting math into some primary school heads by throwing out the textbook in its entirety, and instead teach the kids math the way I learned it in grade 6 in the 1970s from Mrs. Smit, a tannie who knew exactly what she was doing, dominee's wife or not.

To echo what the writer of the article says, some skills have to be drilled and drilled and drilled; there is no other way. Mrs Smit drilled us mercilessly, with the aid of a length of cane when necessary, and I am grateful to her to this day. Alas, nowadays no one likes it, because it is "mindless"  and "not creative". Add that utter curse of the modern school, the calculator, and you have a whole generation of kids who absolutely, flatly, categorically, refuse to learn their tables.

Still, it soon became clear that there are limits to what kids can do if they had been neglected for the first ten years of their lives. Even the small minority who worked very hard seldom scored above 60% or so, which is simply not enough to take to high school math.

I seem to be one of the few who are actually in favour of math lit, although we may need to approach it a bit differently. We need to start streaming the kids earlier than grade 10, I suspect. If you do not get at least 70% for grade 7 math, you will almost certainly never understand high school math. So such kids should in effect repeat grade 6 and 7 math over and over until, by the time they reach matric, they not only get it but can actually apply it. A person who can apply grade 7 math will have a skill few South Africans currently possess.

Alas, by the time the kids are pushed into math lit in grade 10, they have developed a comprehensive math block. Also, they have been out of the math loop since somewhere in primary school, and have in effect not been doing any math for some years, and now they are suddenly expected to understand all of primary school math plus some basic algebra.

Well, they stand no chance, not even with math lit. I currently have some pupils who fall into this category. Fortunately I am no longer at a formal school; I now work part time for a sort of home school center, where we only have one or two kids per class and where the owner is bright enough to understand that you simply cannot hop, skip and jump grades when it comes to math. So in the case of our grade ten kid who doesn't even understand grade four maths (we know because we gave her a grade 4 exam paper on which she scored something like 17%) she told the parents that there will be no other choice but to start right at the beginning. Even that is proving to be an uphill battle.

Usual story: kid has been neglected since birth, and in fact was recently removed from the care of her mother after being outright abused. You cannot get to school full of bruises you got from mom and then just sail through math, methinks, and no amount of tweaking the syllabus is going to make a difference there.

English grammar question:
Which is correct:
One of the things that bother me...   or
One of the things that bothers me...

Would 'bother' refer to the things or to one of them? I don't think I'll ever quite get English. Why? Because it ain't my mother tongue, that's why. I started too late. And if a reasonably intelligent bloke like me, who was not abused or neglected, and has been speaking and reading and writing English for four decades, still struggles with basic concepts, then that gives you an idea of what chance a kid stands with math, if that kid has been suffering severe neglect both at home and at school, all his life.
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« Reply #17 on: July 18, 2017, 09:08:13 AM »

By common usage much more than strict grammar, “One of the things that bothers me is…” is (more) correct.  A pedantic OCD grammarian nanny (e.g., M$ Word) would correctly maintain that bother should be used because it refers to a plurality of things.  It should be clearer when you rephrase a little: “Of the things that bother me, one is…”

'Luthon64
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« Reply #18 on: July 18, 2017, 09:38:58 AM »

By common usage much more than strict grammar, “One of the things that bothers me is…” is (more) correct.  A pedantic OCD grammarian nanny (e.g., M$ Word) would correctly maintain that bother should be used because it refers to a plurality of things.  It should be clearer when you rephrase a little: “Of the things that bother me, one is…”

'Luthon64

I never really bothered to learn the formal rules of English grammar. I sort of absorbed them by lots of reading, so at school I never studied for English exams. When grammar tests came up I just used my intuition, and mostly scored well. What I do notice with English grammar though is that there are, here and there, cases where strictly following the correct grammar somehow sounds wrong. Which is perhaps why, in these cases, common usage often diverges from the 'correct' form.

It is a whole different can of worms, this question of the extent to which grammar should be controlled by the proletariat as opposed to the official grammar Nazis. On the one hand, they can be a bit, well, Nazi. On the other, there are errors that give me the creeps, such as the very common confusing of they're, there and their, or saying things like "I would of liked to do it" (an expression very common among Americans).

In other cases, I think the unwashed masses actually have a point. E.g. I have long thought that strict application of the apostrophe rules sometimes leads to confusion. Take these two sentences:

A's are the only grades I want to see on your report.
As are the only grades I want to see on your report.

The second one is correct, but inevitably forces the reader to do a little double-take to work out what is meant. I cannot think of other examples right now, but I have seen some. I have noticed that among pulp fiction writers, such formal apostrophe 'errors' are now more and more the norm when it will improve readability.

Ah, here's another example:

Write all the lowercase as, is and us as neatly as you can.
Write all the lowercase a's, i's and u's as neatly as you can.

One could of course also write:
Write all the lowercase As, Is and Us as neatly as you can.

But even here I think this would look better and more natural:
Write all the lowercase A's, I's and U's as neatly as you can.
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« Reply #19 on: July 18, 2017, 09:50:47 AM »

Actually, it’s not correct.  A single letter is one of the rare exceptions in English where the plural demands an apostrophe.  Lynne Truss makes it clear in her book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

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« Reply #20 on: July 18, 2017, 09:52:07 AM »

In other cases, I think the unwashed masses actually have a point. E.g. I have long thought that strict application of the apostrophe rules sometimes leads to confusion. Take these two sentences:

A's are the only grades I want to see on your report.
As are the only grades I want to see on your report.

The second one is correct,... 
No, the first is correct. It is an exception to the NO APOSTROPHES IN PLURALS rule. Exeption is there to avoid the ambiguity you point out.
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« Reply #21 on: July 18, 2017, 11:47:10 AM »

Well there ya go - I have been lending my ears to people writing stuff on the web.

Incidentally, do we write "1's, 2's and 3's" or "1s, 2s and 3s"? I find that whether or not it looks awkward or difficult to read depends to some extent on the font you are using.

To summarize: if there are rules that make for awkward language, we should ignore them. But writing things like "I would of" just makes you look like the uneducated hillbilly you are. :-)
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« Reply #22 on: July 18, 2017, 12:15:11 PM »

Incidentally, do we write "1's, 2's and 3's" or "1s, 2s and 3s"? I find that whether or not it looks awkward or difficult to read depends to some extent on the font you are using.
Here is what the CMOS has to say on the subject:--
Quote from: Chicago Manual of Style
9.54 PLURAL NUMBERS
Spelled-out numbers form their plurals as other nouns do (see 7.5).
The contestants were in their twenties and thirties.
The family was at sixes and sevens.
Numerals form their plurals by adding s. No apostrophe is needed.
Among the scores were two 240s and three 238s.
Jazz forms that were developed in the 1920s became popular in the 1930s.
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« Reply #23 on: July 19, 2017, 10:53:44 AM »

On the one hand, they can be a bit, well, Nazi. On the other, there are errors that give me the creeps, such as the very common confusing of they're, there and their, or saying things like "I would of liked to do it" (an expression very common among Americans).

I'm all for keeping the formal rules on those. It really is not that difficult, if you're omitting letters use an apostrophe, and lern to spel.

Americans just suck at English. Some of my favorites are "axe you a question", "expresso", and "I could care less". But I've found I could even teach South Africans whom consider themselves grammar Nazis a thing or two about the Oxford comma used in the previous sentence.
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« Reply #24 on: July 19, 2017, 11:38:01 AM »

On the one hand, they can be a bit, well, Nazi. On the other, there are errors that give me the creeps, such as the very common confusing of they're, there and their, or saying things like "I would of liked to do it" (an expression very common among Americans).

I'm all for keeping the formal rules on those. It really is not that difficult, if you're omitting letters use an apostrophe, and lern to spel.

Americans just suck at English. Some of my favorites are "axe you a question", "expresso", and "I could care less". But I've found I could even teach South Africans whom consider themselves grammar Nazis a thing or two about the Oxford comma used in the previous sentence.


Another one I ran into the other day: an otherwise very well educated American telling me about "tied-in-the-wool conservatives". I would of liked to correct him, but I didn't have the heart. Anyway, I could care less about dem Yanks.  :-)

Ah, and another amusing one: a person guilty of deceipt. A deceipt is what Zuma gives the public protector instead of receipt. But I see deceipt is actually an archaic and obsolete form, so it's at least half a word.

Oh well, I am constantly guilty hideous spelling and grammar errors, so I try not to be too much of a grammar Nazi. It does make for a pleasant distraction from the generally catastrophic news about our education system.
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« Reply #25 on: July 19, 2017, 14:58:13 PM »

On the one hand, they can be a bit, well, Nazi. On the other, there are errors that give me the creeps, such as the very common confusing of they're, there and their, or saying things like "I would of liked to do it" (an expression very common among Americans).

I'm all for keeping the formal rules on those. It really is not that difficult, if you're omitting letters use an apostrophe, and lern to spel.

Americans just suck at English. Some of my favorites are "axe you a question", "expresso", and "I could care less". But I've found I could even teach South Africans whom consider themselves grammar Nazis a thing or two about the Oxford comma used in the previous sentence.

Oxford commas are useful for avoiding ambiguity.  But they should always go inside the quotes... Evil
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« Reply #26 on: July 20, 2017, 09:23:13 AM »

Back to dropping maths. In an ideal world, you would get this. From my Wiki page this morning.

 
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« Reply #27 on: July 20, 2017, 09:39:50 AM »

it is almost certain they will only find out about the building blocks of education when it is much too late.

Mefi, thanks for that article, it illustrates the point I tried to make that when I had a crap teacher one year, I had to battle the next year to understand new work, and the problem got exponentially greater every year. 

One of the things that bother me about this constant talk of upgrading teachers' skills and training is this: among the more successful teachers achieve what they do precisely because they have learned to ignore their "training" (or received no "training" in the first place), and the syllabus along with it. I achieved at least mild success at getting math into some primary school heads by throwing out the textbook in its entirety, and instead teach the kids math the way I learned it in grade 6 in the 1970s from Mrs. Smit, a tannie who knew exactly what she was doing, dominee's wife or not.

To echo what the writer of the article says, some skills have to be drilled and drilled and drilled; there is no other way. Mrs Smit drilled us mercilessly, with the aid of a length of cane when necessary, and I am grateful to her to this day. Alas, nowadays no one likes it, because it is "mindless"  and "not creative". Add that utter curse of the modern school, the calculator, and you have a whole generation of kids who absolutely, flatly, categorically, refuse to learn their tables.

Cheers, Brian.

As a side note, I wonder whether different teaching methods for different generations may account for this: Whenever my mom and I went bargain hunting for groceries together, I always calculated the prices per kg, and she tallied up sub-totals and total. Her adding & subtraction skills were uncanny considering the clamor and distractions. I literally used her as a walking calculator because I could only ever get to an approximation by rounding. She, however, found it harder to calculate the price per kg which is a simple thing if you know the tables.
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« Reply #28 on: July 20, 2017, 10:07:44 AM »

FYI, the dumbing down of math students/standards does not occur only in schools. A few years ago I decided to do a 'refresher' maths course with UNISA. Although my matric qualification is acceptable for most university courses, I know my math skills are weak and I wanted to step back and improve it.

1. The text books provided just a very brief discussion of each lesson with just one or sometimes two examples - not enough to ensure that the student will grasp the concept.  This is distance education - you can't ask random questions!
2. They only provided 2 or 3 exercises for each lesson/concept
3. No further exercises were available, even though I requested assistance.
4. On 3 occasions during 6 months, after laboriously doing external research to make sure I had actually mastered the lessons (remember.. my building blocks just ain't there) and handing in assignments, the results came back with ... "due to the problems many students experienced, this assignment will not count towards your final marks."

I didn't bother with the exam.

PS. This was a bridging course for future science students..
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« Reply #29 on: July 20, 2017, 11:37:55 AM »

FYI, the dumbing down of math students/standards does not occur only in schools. A few years ago I decided to do a 'refresher' maths course with UNISA. Although my matric qualification is acceptable for most university courses, I know my math skills are weak and I wanted to step back and improve it.

1. The text books provided just a very brief discussion of each lesson with just one or sometimes two examples - not enough to ensure that the student will grasp the concept.  This is distance education - you can't ask random questions!
2. They only provided 2 or 3 exercises for each lesson/concept
3. No further exercises were available, even though I requested assistance.
4. On 3 occasions during 6 months, after laboriously doing external research to make sure I had actually mastered the lessons (remember.. my building blocks just ain't there) and handing in assignments, the results came back with ... "due to the problems many students experienced, this assignment will not count towards your final marks."

I didn't bother with the exam.

PS. This was a bridging course for future science students..

How long ago was that? I did something similar through Unisa around 2010 or thereabouts, and the course was excellent: they prescribed a very good textbook, the book's examples and explanations were very clear and the exercises numerous and challenging.

But it is true that Unisa has gone down the tubes; I wouldn't bother with them anymore. I know lots of people who have tried studying through Unisa, and they all complain that both the teaching and administration have gotten so bad that it has become pretty much impossible to learn anything from there.

It's sad to see. I originally did my B degree through Unisa in the early 1990s, and they were absolutely brilliant. There were NEVER even the slightest administrative mess-ups, and the quality of the teaching was superb. In all the courses, they prescribed one or more textbooks, and they specifically chose excellent textbooks. They then also issued students with a study guide that explained some concepts, but mostly just contained very clear instructions on how to use the textbooks, which bits would be important, etc. And then you also had to do a certain number of assignments. These never got lost somewhere in their system, and they were never late in marking and returning them. Where necessary, lecturers would write comments etc.

Then, also around 2010, when I started teaching, I tried to do that infernal postgrad teaching certificate. A few months in I gave up. For one thing, the courses had preciously little to do with teaching; it was mostly just propaganda about how bad the system was under apartheid and how change was essential. For another, to the extent that they said anything at all about such things as teaching, preparing lessons etc, there was no guidance AT ALL. There was no prescribed textbook on it and no study guide. Out of the blue you had to prepare sample lessons and curricula etc, and when I got my assignments back, they were marked but had no comments of any kind. For the first time in my entire academic career I barely scraped through assignments (that's right - not exams but mere assignments) because I could't for the life of me work out what was expected, and all queries went unanswered.

I eventually gave up on it: the coursework was the most spectacularly boring load of crap I have ever seen and wasn't helping me at all. It also occurred to me that the people who presented this course were all supposed experts in education, i.e. in how to get course material across to students. But they were worse at it than any of my biology lecturers, who had no qualifications in education (but were very well qualified indeed in the subjects they were teaching).

I concluded that education is a pseudo-subject, and a degree or certificate in education a pseudo-qualification. This was richly confirmed to me when I observed my fully qualified colleagues at various schools: some could teach well, some could not teach at all, and the 'qualification' in education made no difference at all. If anything, it possibly actually made them worse at it, because it contaminates the mind with all kinds of crap for which there may or may not be any evidence. (As an aside, Nassim taleb warns against doing such things as reading newspapers or doing an MBA degree, precisely because it contaminates the mind and makes you actually worse off than if you had done nothing.)

Of course, not being "fully qualified"  means I can never be appointed at any government school, but that is something for which I am increasingly grateful... :-)

Now here's another thing that bothers me about the education department's attempts at improving things: they often go an and on about how they are going to make sure all teachers are "fully qualified." By which they presumably mean that they'll make sure everyone has a B. Ed. or a postgrad certificate. Well, good luck trying to improve education that way...
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« Reply #30 on: July 20, 2017, 17:02:50 PM »

Mefi, thanks for that article, it illustrates the point I tried to make that when I had a crap teacher one year, I had to battle the next year to understand new work, and the problem got exponentially greater every year.
De nada, Spike—and thanks for you-know-what. Wink (It’s possible that I’m reaching here, but I don’t think so.)

I had two disturbing encounters with Unisa about 25 years ago, one with the Statistics department and the other with the Mathematics department.  Needless to say, those episodes are quite pointed and relevant in the context of this thread.  The first involved an assignment where the inversion of square matrices was required as part of the solution.  The marked and returned assignment bore the red-penned comment, “I don’t understand but you seem to know what you are doing.”  I had used a matrix inversion method (the adjoint-determinant method, if you must know) which is particularly efficient for 2×2 and 3×3 matrices—so much so that with a bit of practice, one can do the inversions in one’s head.  Clearly, whoever had marked the assignment wasn’t anywhere near the top of their game.  (At the end of the year, I visited the department head and showed him this mini-fiasco.  To his credit, he expressed appropriate alarm once I’d shown him the evidence.)

The second bonce-bumping was with the department head of Mathematics.  At the end of an aced assignment, he’d written a challenge for me to see what I could come up with regarding a specific theorem of kernels, image spaces and projections for vector manifolds.  With the next assignment, I sent a rigorous, separately enveloped, proof of my own devising for the theorem in question, specifically addressed to him.  His response?  Basically, that I had “a tendency to overcomplicate things,” followed by what was no less—and certainly no more—than an exercise in hand-waving and (admittedly educated) intuition about the theorem—precisely the approach that mathematics abjures.  To be fair, such educated intuition is a remarkably fruitful source, but it should be obvious that passing this practice off as a valid source of subject advancement to a student kinda subtracts from the purpose of attending the courses in the first place:  Learn the rules first; you can always work around them later, but to do so, you have to know them well.

'Luthon64
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« Reply #31 on: July 21, 2017, 13:34:41 PM »

1. The text books provided just a very brief discussion of each lesson with just one or sometimes two examples

I have to correct myself - these were study guides. No prescribed textbook at all.  This was in 2007, certainly no later than 2008.

bonce-bumping

 Grin Grin Grin Grin

Learn the rules first; you can always work around them later, but to do so, you have to know them well.

That's where creativity comes in, as per your earliest post in this thread. It's perhaps a little off topic, but according to some people, creativity is fed by chaos, and 'boundaries' restrict art. My pedestrian view is that creativity is based on order.  If you don't know the rules, you have nothing to challenge.
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« Reply #32 on: July 21, 2017, 14:49:25 PM »

Ahem.
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« Reply #33 on: July 21, 2017, 15:47:17 PM »


I wouldn't know about accounting, but good luck trying to do matric physics without math. Of course, we can always lower the physics standards, or, er, replace it with African science. That Oubaas Newton, he was veeery clever, but eish, he was white, so he was colonialist. So, you don't worry. Today, we look at how to burn witches without using matches. You see dees thing? Magnifying glass! i-Physics he is fun!

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