It’s been demonstrated that learning a language is harder than learning mathematics. Language involves complex rules – syntax, spelling, and grammar.

So if your kids can speak, why do they struggle with math?

Here’s an analogy – students in Calgary high schools learn Spanish (or French) for 3 YEARS! And they come out of the program not having the ability to speak conversationally.

Most students in Calgary schools learn math the same way.

The problem is a lack of full engagement and immersion because 3-6 years of basic algebra are stretched to over 9.

There’s no challenge, there’s no incentive to do better and, when the 9 years up, they get hit with a standardized test that 1/4 of Grade 9 students fail. So what’s the solution and how do we know this is a problem?

In 1997, a team of researchers developed the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is the number one way to rank educational achievement country to country.

Before 1999, Poland’s education system was third world but, with reforms, they are the only transition country to go from being below the OECD average on standardized testing to above average. Meanwhile, Alberta students are 1 grade level behind where they were in 2007 because our province adapted discovery learning – a mathematics curriculum that does not encourage repetition and rigor and even knowing the times tables.

Here’s how Poland did it: Poland used to have 2 veins for students – vocational and academic. This is kind of like having Math30-2 and Math 30-1. The trades students (vocational) all had lower requirements than the academics and, after graduating, their competence and grades dipped further still.

Poland combined the students from both programs into the regular (Math 30-1 type) program.

Guess what happened?

The trades student pulled their weight and met the higher standards! Poland also shortened primary school from 8 years to 6.

So what does this tell you as a parent?

1. If your child is not being challenged, they won’t grow or pick up the skill. Instead, they may be bored in school and may not learn or retain anything.

2. Do NOT put your kids into 10-2, 10-3 or any lower ranked classes. They will have no opportunity to do better. A 65 in 10-1 is better than a 90% in 10-3. By going into 10-3 or 10-2 you are putting your kids years behind their peers.

What are some things you can do to support your children in mathematics?

1. Be there for your children in the earlier grades. Sit down with them when they do homework but don’t pressure them – make sure they’re comfortable and have someone to turn to when they have questions. This will give them confidence for higher levels and teach them to enjoy the process of doing the repetition necessary to learn the language of math.

2. You can seek out more practice for your kids that challenges and teaches them – Kumon is good but has a cost. An alternative, Khan Academy is free and has interactive tools to practice questions. It works extremely well for Grade 10 and below but doesn’t match the curriculum well enough for Math 20 or 30.

3. If you personally (as a parent) struggle with mathematics or have a poor opinion of it, you will pass this onto your kids. Your children look up to you and learn from you – change your attitudes on the maths and sciences and they will follow. They will listen when you tell them how important these topics are for managing business finances or even just a career in sciences (doctors, veterenarians), engineering or finance.