Math education continues to be debated in Manitoba Legislative Assembly session

Thank you to Mr. Hugh McFadyen, Leader of the Manitoba PC party, for highlighting the problems with math education in Manitoba during the session of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba yesterday.  Below is an excerpt from the Hansard for April 18, 2012.

Mr. Hugh McFadyen (Leader of the Official Opposition):.  Mr. Speaker, in the area of education, we have seen, thanks to people who work within the system, that things are going backwards rather than forwards in terms of what our kids are learning in schools. And I want to, as well, add my comments to the comments made by the member for River Heights (Mr. Gerrard) the other day, about the issue of math education. That’s an issue that we have been working on and our education critic, the member for Morden, has–had–Morden-Winkler (Mr. Friesen)–has made many, many comments and advanced this issue in a significant way.

But Anna Stokke and Professor Craigen from the University of Manitoba and others, have raised concerns about what they’re seeing in their classrooms. Students who are graduating from Manitoba schools are arriving in university ill-equipped to deal with significant challenges in the area of mathematics. And it shows up in so many different ways throughout the province and through our communities.
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We know that small-business people are finding that recent graduates are unable to deal with basic mathematical calculations. And what we saw, Mr. Speaker, years and years ago, because this wasn’t a change that was brought about by Manitoba teachers, this was a change that was brought about by bureaucracy within the Department of Education and imposed on Manitoba teachers, a change in the math curriculum which has taken things backward, which has created confusion for teachers, students and parents, and which has made it more difficult for students to master basic mathematical problems: addition, subtraction, division and multiplication.

And our teachers are doing their best but they’re required to teach to the curriculum that they’ve been handed by the NDP and those teachers are telling us that it’s the wrong way to go, that they want that curriculum changed. They believe in doing the best they can for our students and it’s really a problem and an issue that resides within this minister’s office, and that has long-term consequences for our province.

If our kids our unable to succeed in mathematics, it limits their ability to succeed in fields like engineering and science and medicine and business and so many other areas that are so important to developing the future of our province. The ability to challenge and tackle major problems, like environmental challenges around cleaning up our lakes and cleaning up our waterways and our air, are based on discoveries made by people who are equipped in the areas of science and mathematics to deal with complex and challenging problems. The ability to have engineers who can undertake great projects and build the future of our province, like hydro projects and transmission lines and other major works of engineering that move our province into the future. When we have an inability on the part of students to excel in mathematics, it takes away from our ability to train the best engineers who can solve these major challenges.

Our ability to produce more of those great thinkers is diminished when our students are unable to deal with complex challenges in mathematics. Our ability to protect ourselves in the future from major floods is reduced when we have less know-how amongst those involved in engineering. Our ability to design those great dams and transmission projects and other major works that will provide low-cost electricity to Manitobans are diminished when our education system fails to operate at its very best level.

And we believe that students should have the ability to pursue their dreams and to build on their own strengths, and as a province we’re enriched when we have students who excel in music, when we have students who excel in the arts, when we have students who excel in education and medicine and nursing and so many other areas. And this government, of course, puts value on all of those areas, as we do. But it’s a government that seeks not to put any value on professions like engineering and science and business and those other areas that are the wealth creators that enable us, Mr. Speaker, to have all those other good things that are important to our quality of life here in Manitoba. Our ability to have a vibrant arts community, our ability to have well-funded schools and good roads is a function of our ability to move forward as an economy. And those great steps forward are almost always taken by engineers and business people and others who have big ideas and translate those ideas into new businesses and new projects that create wealth and protect Manitobans.

So it’s a serious, long-term issue. It may, in fact, be the most significant long-term issue before legislators in this province today. There are lots and lots of short-term issues that we’ll debate, lots of irritants and challenges and immediate problems that face us. But, perhaps, the greatest long-term challenge we face as a province is the ability to get it right within our public education system, the ability to pursue excellence at every level and ensure that every child develops to their fullest capacity, to ensure that our teachers have a curriculum that makes sense, that’s forward looking, that’s constructive and pragmatic. And for all of those reasons, Mr. Speaker, we are concerned that this government seems not to recognize that there’s even a problem and that the budget does nothing to address this very significant issue.

If we look next door, Mr. Speaker, at Saskatchewan, when the issue of math education came to the attention of Premier Wall and his government next door they committed to address it. They launched a process to review the problem and they committed themselves to bring forward solutions. We need a similar approach in this province. As the issues are coming to light, and they’ve only really started to come to light in a significant way thanks to the efforts of people like Anna Stokke and other professors and teachers and parents throughout the province of Manitoba who have raised this to our attention, and now that they have we owe it to them to respond in a forthright, in a proactive and in a constructive way.

And it’s not a matter of politics, Mr. Speaker; it’s about the future of our province. It’s about our children and grandchildren, and we owe it to them to do the right thing today. And we know that at some point down the road they’ll look back and thank us for our foresight, or we’ll carry on down the path we’re on right now and we’ll live to regret the fact that we didn’t take action when we had the opportunity.

So I call on the government, Mr. Speaker, to pay close attention to what Anna Stokke, to what parents and others are saying, because these are people who are working with students each and every day. They see it up close. They know exactly what’s happening. They are educators within our public system of universities. And we ask the government to not disregard the concerns of our teachers and educators in Manitoba, to not show contempt for educators and professors and teachers in Manitoba, to listen carefully to what they’re saying and to act on it, and they’ll be given credit if they do.

Mr. Speaker, we can’t afford to fall behind our neighbours in other provinces who are acting, who are responding. They’re not pointing the finger and playing politics with the issue; they’re looking at the facts, they’re listening to what has to be said, and they’re acting on it. And there’s always an opportunity in public life to have the courage to not just play petty union politics all the time, but to actually look at the facts and make a courageous, bold decision to move our province forward in a constructive way and in a spirit of partnership with our front-line teachers who share the concerns that have been raised by members of our party and by educators at the level of our universities and colleges.

The entire Hansard can be viewed here.

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