Why is maths teaching still a problem today?

The writer says his 35-year experience of teaching teenagers' mathematics has seen a number of students struggle as they lacked the basics of numeracy and had a poor recall of the tables.
The writer says his 35-year experience of teaching teenagers' mathematics has seen a number of students struggle as they lacked the basics of numeracy and had a poor recall of the tables.
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The Australian Curriculum Authority has proposed concentrating on teaching problem solving in mathematics whereas surely the emphasis should be on solving the problem of mathematics teaching.

Problem solving is an important skill, but the basics should be mastered first and fully as no-one wants a mechanic who can fix an engine but doesn't know which fuel to use in it.

Despite the silliness of the example, this could be the outcome when solving a sudoku puzzle is more important than knowing your time tables. This problem occurs in most, if not all, countries.

My own 35 years of teaching teenagers' mathematics has seen a number of students struggle as they lacked the basics of numeracy and had a poor recall of the tables.

Despite the pleasures gained by being able to solve quadratic equations, most people need little more than their tables, the four main operations and a reasonable knowledge of fractions and yet not all master these skills.

The solution seems simple enough; have enough qualified and skilled maths teachers to deliver these lessons to all and effectively but there are not enough teachers and certainly not enough capable teachers. Why is poor mathematics teaching still a problem when it has been known about for so long?

Why is there not already a best way of teaching mathematics when little of the material has changed in centuries? Why aren't teachers more respected and better paid?

Why is the change driven by the embarrassing results in international testing rather than the value of citizens being confident in their own abilities in mathematics?

Old teachers, especially those from before the new mathematics, might be worth listening to. 

Dennis Fitzgerald, Melbourne, Australia

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