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Petition says do the math

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It is reasonable to expect those training to be teachers have a basic proficiency in the core subjects. Teachers can be asked to teach just about any subject -- hence the necessity of knowing how to teach. But math and language arts are building blocks in education. Still, a teacher can be certified without ever having shown competency in mathematics.

A petition being signed by Manitoba professors of math, engineering and sciences asks the education minister to require the math standard for students entering education to be either Grade 12 applied math or pre-calculus math. At present, entering students need a minimum of "consumer" math -- a life-skills course heavy on personal-finance skills. It's a useful course for students who are weak in math or who want to pad their Grade 12 average.

University professors complain education students are struggling with the entry math programs and many in math, engineering and science faculties have below-par skills. They believe that is a result, in part, of weak teaching by teachers who themselves have not had good math educations.

The school boards' association has no position on basic math requirements of education students; boards hire teachers to fit into their teaching assignments as best they can but sometimes, particularly in small or remote schools, resources are limited, which reduces the flexibility to demand specialization.

Universities set entrance requirements. The province sets requirements for certification. Aside from an undergraduate degree, teachers for primary and middle grades must have at least three credit hours in math, the equivalent of a half-year course. (For the secondary level, teachers are required to have 30 credit hours in a major subject and 18 credit hours in a minor).

Assessments of early-grade math competency bear out the fact Manitoba needs to work to lay down good math skills in early grades. The universities could demand more of teachers-in-training by raising their math requirements -- at present, an education student can meet the math cutoff with a "math history" course. The province should recognize the basic weakness in allowing teachers-in-training to certify on the strength of a life-skills course. Certification should demand they have passed Grade 12 applied math or pre-calculus prior to entering a program.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2011 A10

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