Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Real Thing

I recently read two articles from Australian newspapers that I found interesting.

The first was discussing the inclusion of 'consumer and financial literacy' in the new Australian National Curriculum. The push for this comes from the Financial Literacy Foundation - a 'taskforce' set up in 2004 to determine the state of the nation's ability to negotiate the world of commerce. The group discovered inadequacies in financial management and a national strategy was hastily established to address them.

Board member Elaine Henry states: 'Young people are not sufficiently trained in key building blocks of commerce' and that 'too few people understand their rights and obligations and are not comfortable with basic economic principles'. Fundamental issues surrounding money management have been taught in schools on and off over the years but there has been no solid commitment to it. This is being addressed and ''consumer and financial literacy'' will become a significant component of the national curriculum.

The second article talks about student drop out rates of maths because it is being taught in ways that are 'out of touch' with the real world. Professor Peter Sullivan - of Monash University - claims that the repeated practice of similar examples that can often be seen in schools is both boring and restrictive, and that as mathematics becomes content heavy (typically around grade 8 and 9) many students become disengaged.

Prof. Sullivan advocates for "a different approach to teaching; something that is going to engage the students instead of just being process-driven.'' He goes on to say that, "Mathematics is part of the world and we need to use it in flexible ways, so that students in school get a chance to solve problems, make decisions and use mathematics to come to understand the world.''

In my opinion, these two articles go hand in hand. Mathematics is a major part of the 'real world' and should be taught in ways that promote its use in this way. Students need skills and knowledge to show understanding, and there are building blocks of mathematical knowledge and certain skills that must be mastered before they can be applied to contextual problems. Just as it can be easy for teachers to fall into the trap of over-focussing on skills and not providing enough opportunities for real-life application, it can be just as easy to ask students to demonstrate their understanding without allowing them the appropriate time for skill development. A balance needs to be attained.

Consumer and financial literacy could be easily integrated with real world scenarios and problems (eg. saving, credit, percentages, insurance, banking, shopping and interest). This shouldn't only be limited to mathematics though. Advertising, contracts and policies (to name a few) could all be examined in classes such as English and the economics branch of Social studies. The opportunities for real world integration are many and varied and teachers should look for appropriate times to include these in their teaching wherever and whenever possible.

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