News Herald – Juliann Talkington
Imagine learning to fluently read and write Chinese in one hour a day for only 180 days each year. Impossible!
Now consider learning the foreign language of math in one hour a day for 180 days each year. Realistic?
If the goal is to ensure basic proficiency in addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and percentages, the level of exposure is probably adequate. If the goal is to get students to the math levels required for high quality 21st Century employment, there is not nearly enough time.
For success in math, kids must be able read, memorize, organize, and write and sketch legibly. In addition, they need strong spatial abilities, excellent sequential processing skills, and attention to detail.
All these skills take many years to hone. Sadly, most early education programs have a heavy focus on reading and memorizing, but have little (or inadequate) emphasis on organization, handwriting and sketching, attention to detail, sequential processing, and spatial orientation.
Part of the problem is early childhood education teachers are taught in programs where these skills were not a priority, so they either have weak skills themselves and/or do not understand the importance of teaching the skills.
Then there are curricula problems. Most early childhood education curricula are developed by individuals or teams of individuals who have years of experience with humanities and social sciences so spatial, sequential processing, and attention to detail skills are not priorities.
Another challenge is that these technical skills are generally not imperative in math until students reach late elementary school. As a result, teachers, school administrators and regulators often believe students are performing well even though they have skills deficits.
The combination of curricula that does not include the necessary skills, instructors who not well equipped to teach the skills, and delayed feedback on skills deficits is a recipe for disaster.
To correct the problem, we must change our early childhood education graduation requirements to include a 50/50 balance between the humanities/social sciences (psychology, sociology, language arts, etc.) and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses.
Then, we need curricula developed by well-balanced teams that include equal representation from the humanities/social sciences and STEM.
Finally, we need a way of confirming that preschool to grade three students are obtaining these necessary skills.
With these changes, our kids should have the skills to succeed in math, the humanities, engineering, and social sciences!