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University of Regina math professor Fernando Szechtman says the quality of math education for would-be teachers is 'abysmal'. (CBC)

A University of Regina professor says the state of math education in schools can be traced to what he calls the "abysmal" level of math skills he sees in university students studying to become teachers.

Fernando Szechtman, a professor of mathematics, told CBC News that he has seen a steady decline in the math skills of students in the education faculty.

While a recent study blamed a new math curriculum for an overall drop in math skills, Szechtman said the real problem is the prospective teachers themselves.

"I have seen it for the last eight years," Szechtman said. "The product of the educational system in mathematics is abysmal. It's much, much, much worse than what it could be."

He added that the math training provided to students in the faculty of education is often not enough to ensure they overcome that deficit.

According to Szechtman, prospective elementary school teachers take one course in math during their training.

He noted that teachers aiming to specialize in high school level math need only take a few basic classes. Not enough, he argues, to be proficient in the area.

"As it stands I don't think they come out of university with the proper background to teach mathematics to kids either in elementary school or in high school," he said.

In Manitoba, a University of Winnipeg professor has raised similar concerns about the math skills of education students she sees in her classes.

Anna Stokke said some are incapable of solving even the most basic math problems.

"Adding fractions," Stokke said was one startling area where students were deficient. "Very, very basic things. [Like] calculating percentages."

Stokke added that university courses are not addressing the issue.

"If you don't know math, you can't teach math," she added. "You probably wouldn't want a piano teacher for your child who didn't really play the piano very well, would you?"

In Manitoba, an online petition is asking the provincial government there to increase admission standards for teachers' college.

Szechtman told CBC News he decided to speak out about what he has observed, after years of frustration.

Corrections

  • In a previous version of this story, CBC News reported that Professor Szechtman called university training abysmal. While he is critical of the university training that prospective teachers receive, in the 'abysmal' quote he was specifically referring to the math skills of students he sees coming into the university.
    Sep 27, 1970 3:30 AM CT