Fifteen-year-old son two came home from school yesterday, cornering me in the kitchen as I had just finished work, with his chest out and bag still on his back. He seemed very ready to tell me about school.
‘Hello.’ He kissed me. ‘You’ll never guess what happened today.’ He leaned back against the wooden, kitchen cupboard.
Still standing beside the kitchen door, I asked, 'What?'
‘We walked into this year seven classroom today,’ he said in a voice more intent than is typical for him. 'We never normally go in there. And there were three, five, ten and eleven times-tables written on a white board.’
His brown eyes sparkled more transparent than usual, probably due to them being so wide stretched, which allowed extra sunlight to reflect into them. Enthusiastic eyes they were, bursting to tell me more.
‘And so we asked our teacher, were you teaching time-tables to the year sevens?’
‘And?’ I waited.
‘He said he wasn’t but they'll soon have to because the year sevens don’t know their tables!’
‘True,’ said son two. ‘They’re thirteen and they don’t know their tables. How dumb are they!’
‘No, it’s not them,’ I said, saddened by what he told me. ‘It’s not their fault, they haven’t been taught.’
‘Yeah I know,’ he said. ‘But they don’t know their tables!’
‘The question is, why don’t they know them?’ I asked. ‘That’s ridiculous.’
Son three called son two away. That left me standing in the kitchen, thinking. Surely teachers, parents and carers, understand that you need maths. Everybody needs maths. You can’t study subjects like geography, law, economics and science without maths. Or if you want to be a plumber, electrician or nurse, you need maths too. And times-tables are a fundamental of maths. Children need to get to a good standard of them. They’ll struggle to get a job without those fundamentals.
Sure, there is great emphasis in the classroom now on learning to problem solve and the theory of addition and subtraction. However, that’s not enough — you have to know how to apply the theory, and know how to do it quickly. Maths is a language all on its own, with symbols just like an alphabet.
Learning the theory and practicing it, it’s no new concept and happens for students of all ages of all subjects. Take any student in post-graduate studies. They must understand the theory behind concepts and then implement the theory against practice. It happens always. Theory and practice go hand-in-hand. Teachers themselves would have studied to become a teacher from theory, and then applied that to practice.
Different ideas and expectations on learning and maths exist across the world. Here in Australia, it seems many children of thirteen are moving onto that second level of more independent learning without knowing their tables. In the past, it was considered that by age 12, children would know their times-tables.
In the UK, a new primary education curriculum will come into force in 2014 with a greater emphasis on times-tables and where children by the age of nine, will be expected to know up to their 12 x 12’s. Currently, children are expected to know up to their 10's by the age of 11.
So why is it that many children in their junior years of learning, do not know their times-tables? Or maybe the question is, why aren’t they learning their times-tables by the time they are twelve or thirteen?
Maybe it’s because of an extremely crowded school curriculum and teachers having to do so much more than they once did. The reality is, schools cannot teach our children everything. Our children today are exposed to a far broader range of learning and experience than any other generation before us.
Maybe our lives and our children’s lives are so busy, that there doesn’t seem to be ‘time’ to be still or be together to learn at home. Maybe parents and carers need to step up and take back some responsibility for their children’s learning rather than relinquishing it all to schools and believing that schools should teach their children everything.
It has been said many times over that parents, carers and family are the greatest teachers with the most influence on our children’s lives. The not sharing of responsibility for our children’s learning, challenges the notion of a duty of care on children, as is the whole issue of obesity, but that’s another story for another time.
Why can’t schools and parents, carers and family join to share the learning for children? Why can’t parents sit with their children for half an hour a day and go over times-tables, or spelling words, or any other part of a child’s learning that has been identified as something that needs working on? I know some do spend the time but I also know many don’t, and many are so busy scooting children off form one activity to another after school that there doesn’t appear to be time to sit and be, to play and to learn from that play, which is just as important learning formally.
Maybe that is the problem. The world has become so busy and complicated that there is no time to just be. To be still and to have time to explore.
Maybe it’s time to get back to the fundamentals of life so that kids will know that 3 x 3 ≠10.