A majority of the reports suggest reasons for, or causes of, the perceived problems in mathematics education. These relate to three key areas:
- Young people’s (and adults’) mathematical activity
- The curriculum, qualifications and assessment
- Teachers, teaching and schools.
I am interested in the perceived and actual reasons for these problems, and a first step in my research has been to ask people, using a web 2.0 approach which draws on the ‘wisdom of the crowds’. For example, Twitter and Facebook have been used to invite people to complete a questionnaire. People were asked whether each of the following is a key reason for the problems, has some influence or is not a reason:
- Assessment focuses on the wrong things
- The curriculum is not fit for purpose
- Mathematics is hard
- Societal attitudes towards mathematics are negative
- Teaching is not good enough
The research is at an early stage, but some initial results are available. The graph below summarises responses from 192 participants (including 101 from the UK, 68 from South Africa, 8 from the USA and 15 others) as at 8th August 2014.
It seems all the reasons provided in the questionnaire are seen to contribute to the problems in mathematics education. A very small proportion of respondents (less than 10%) did not see negative societal attitudes as making some contribution, with almost 50% seeing this as a key reason. Only about 20% thought that assessment and poor teaching had no influence on the problems and in both cases almost 30% each thought these were key reasons. It seems that people also generally see the curriculum as making an important contribution to the problems, although about a quarter of the respondents said that they thought it had no influence. The least popular (and possibly most disputed) cause of the problems seems to be the nature of mathematics and the perception that it is difficult.
For respondents from the UK only (this is a subset of the above), the picture is slightly different:
Here a very slightly higher proportion of respondents consider that societal attitudes are a key reason or has some influence. In terms of assessment, the proportion of respondents reporting that they thought it was not a reason is the same in the two populations but in the UK the proportion that thought it was a key reason is slightly higher than in the worldwide sample. In terms of the curriculum, a slightly higher proportion reported that they believed it was either a key reason or had an influence and a slightly higher proportion, almost 30%, said that they thought teaching was not a reason with under 20% stating that it is a key reason. The results for ‘maths is hard’ were about the same.
The analysis of the data from South Africa can be found here.