Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Good start on math reforms

  • Print

It is unclear what Education Minister Nancy Allan was contemplating when she insisted it is clear that school kids should be able to do more of their math "in their heads." Ms. Allan introduced necessary changes to the arithmetic curriculum in Manitoba's public schools, which will see students doing more of the tried-and-true exercises their parents used, bending a trend away from broad adoption of methods that eschewed memorization and pencil-and-paper work.

Children will be taught to add and multiply in stacked columns again, carrying numbers from the ones to the 10s to the 100s columns, rather than, for example, in linear equations that required students to make mental leaps that often defied their parents' comprehension.

The province's results on international and national standards tests indicate many Manitoba pupils were not "getting it" in math class, either. Over successive tests in the last decade, Manitoba's ranking has been slipping against those of other provinces.

The changes to teaching methods and curricula were brought about for good cause: New ways of learning how to manipulate numbers and grasp mathematical concepts were introduced to cater to various learning styles among children. Rote memorization works well with young minds, but not for everyone, and strict adherence to computation styles of yesteryear meant children who thought outside the column lines were stifled.

But entirely tossing the times tables, for example, was a mistake. Now multiplication memory work is back, Ms. Allan says. Further, middle school students will be expected to show their work, and answers, on the page, rather than relying upon calculators.

Teaching styles ought to accommodate a variety of learning styles, which argues for employing the basic methods that worked for years along with methods that serve tactile or conceptual learners.

Ms. Allan is to be congratulated for acting on evidence that Manitoba had strayed to far in its reform of curriculum, such that many primary students were getting lost. This produced high school students who began to fail in mathematics early on. Eventually, those who fell behind were dissuaded from taking the pre-calculus classes, and were streamed into Grade 11 and 12 "consumer" math courses that did not require higher skills.

The problem starts in the primary grades, far earlier than in Grade 7, where teachers complain about having to spend inordinate amount of time reviewing multiplication and addition.

But at the core of the issue is the fact parents cannot easily follow their child's progress. Schools use report cards that obscure academic achievement -- replacing grades with a 1-4 scale that describes achievement below, at or above grade level in subjects. Further, there is a trend away from homework and tests.

The NDP government's rejection of the value of publishing the results of standardized tests and assessments has contributed to the disconnection of parents and taxpayers from the education system.

Re-engaging the public in public schools calls for greater openness and transparency. Making good data on academic achievement -- report cards, school-by-school achievement -- widely available injects accountability into the education system.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2013 A12

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Winnipeg Cheapskate: Flyer app can save you money

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(Standup photo)- Humming Around- A female ruby -throated hummingbird fly's through the bee bomb  flowers Friday at the Assiniboine Park English Garden- Nectar from flowers are their main source of food. Hummingbirds wings can beat as fast as 75x times second. Better get a glimpse of them soon the birds fly far south for the winter - from Mexico to South America- JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Sept 10, 2009
  • Hay bales sit under a rainbow just west of Winnipeg Saturday, September 3, 2011.(John Woods/Winnipeg Free Press)

View More Gallery Photos


Has your opinion of Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec changed given his latest winning streak?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google