Fernando Szechtman, University of Regina

Fernando Szechtman (M.Sc. U of A, 1994; Ph.D. U of A, 1999)

After earning my Ph.D. I was an Assistant Professor at Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay for 2 years. I was then an NSERC Postodoctoral Fellow at the University of Waterloo for 2 years, until I moved to Regina in 2003, where I am currently Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

During my time in Waterloo my daughter attended the excellent Kitchener-Waterloo Bilingual School when she was 3 and 4 years old. In those two years she began to read and write in French, and her oral French abilities her excellent.

As soon as I arrived to Regina I realized that the educational system was gravely flawed. The academic expectations for children in kindergarden and grade 1 were extremely low. Why they expect so little from our wonderful children is something I will never understand.

Frustrated, I decided to create and run a Math Club. The local school did not let me do that within the school (!?), so I organized it at the University. There were children from kindergarden to grade 2. We learnt many interesting things. We went far and fast. They were eager, I liked them, and I knew very well what I was talking about. One of the things we learnt was adding and subtracting integers. It is a sign of the total failure of the system that today, in grade 8, my daughter is seeing this same topic in school as part of the official curriculum. I also taught my daughter, when she was in grade 2 or 3, to use and add numbers in other systems, not just the decimal system (you may have heard about the binary system; there are many others). She mastered it. It is the same topic I teach to prospective teachers in first year of university!!

Besides organizing the Math Club I also wrote a letter addressed to the Minister of Education of the time (it was the year 2004, I believe). The letter was signed by many professors from the University of Regina as well as parents concerned by their children’s education. It essentially described how concerned we all were about the educational system in Saskatchewan, and the poor academic quality of the education our children were receiving at school. The response from the Ministry told me that there was little I could expect from them.

I had a few meetings with Ministry officials as well from representatives from the Regina School board. We were not speaking the same language.

I would describe the status of mathematics education in Saskatchewan schools as deplorable. We are robbing Saskatchewan children of a great opportunity to learn a lifelong crucial ability: critical thinking. I am convinced now that only the overwhelming pressure from a very large number of concerned parents can produce a positive change. Please take the time to become informed about this subject. Go to the Math department of your local university and talk to the research active mathematicians about the quality of Mathematics taught in the current public educational system.