Wednesday, March 14

The challenge with mathematics

I do dabble a wee bit with mathematics. For a long time in my career, I had to muck about with mathematics, some very serious hair hurting stuff. Anyway, thankfully, I am now too old and boring to muck about with the old cutting edge stuff in mathematics, these days, its most statistics, time series stuff and stuff related to multi variate analysis.

Kannu is taking maths and advanced maths in his 6th form. Which is good. I was also very chuffed when Diya’s teacher told me that she is good in maths. I reviewed her maths workbook and she is quite good actually. And then to top it, she says that as she is so good in Maths, she will become a banker rather than a doctor (for more prosaic reasons, she doesn't want to spend that long in hospitals which doctors do, I didn't want to tell her that unfortunately some kinds of bankers will end up spending an equal if not more time at work).

Anyway, here’s an interesting column on why mathematics matters.

If one manages to graduate from high school without the rudiments of algebra, geometry and trigonometry, there are certain relatively high-paying careers probably off-limits for life -- such as careers in architecture, chemistry, computer programming, engineering, medicine and certain technical fields. For example, one might meet all of the physical requirements to be a fighter pilot, but he's grounded if he doesn't have enough math to understand physics, aerodynamics and navigation. Mathematical ability helps provide the disciplined structure that helps people to think, speak and write more clearly. In general, mathematics is an excellent foundation and prerequisite for study in all areas of science and engineering. So where do U.S. youngsters stand in math?

Drs. Eric Hanushek and Paul Peterson, senior fellows at the Hoover Institution, looked at the performance of our youngsters compared with their counterparts in other nations, in their Newsweek article, "Why Can't American Students Compete?" (Aug. 28, 2011), reprinted under the title "Math Matters" in the Hoover Digest (2012). In the latest international tests administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, only 32 percent of U.S. students ranked proficient in math -- coming in between Portugal and Italy but far behind South Korea, Finland, Canada and the Netherlands. U.S. students couldn't hold a finger to the 75 percent of Shanghai students who tested proficient.

What about our brightest? It turns out that only 7 percent of U.S. students perform at the advanced level in math. Forty-five percent of the students in Shanghai are advanced in math, compared with 20 percent in South Korea and Switzerland and 15 percent of students in Japan, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Canada.

Hanushek and Peterson find one bright spot among our young people. That's Asian-American students, 52 percent of whom perform at the proficient level or higher. Among white students, only 42 percent perform math at a proficient level. The math performance of black and Hispanic students is a disaster, with only 11 and 15 percent, respectively, performing math at the proficient level or higher.

The National Center for Education Statistics revealed some of the results of American innumeracy. Among advanced degrees in engineering awarded at U.S. universities during the 2007-08 academic year, 28 percent went to whites; 2 percent went to blacks; 2 percent went to Hispanics; and 61 percent went to foreigners. Of the advanced degrees in mathematics, 40 percent went to whites; 2 percent went to blacks; 5 percent went to Hispanics; and 50 percent went to foreigners. For advanced degrees in education, 65 percent went to whites; 17 percent went to blacks; 5 percent went to Hispanics; and 8 percent went to foreigners. The pattern is apparent. The more rigorous a subject area the higher the percentage of foreigners -- and the lower the percentage of Americans -- earning advanced degrees. In subject areas such as education, which have little or no rigor, Americans are likelier -- and foreigners are less likely -- to earn advanced degrees.

In a New York Times article -- "Do We Need Foreign Technology Workers?" (April 8, 2009) -- Dr. Vivek Wadhwa of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University said "that 47 percent of all U.S. science and engineering workers with doctorates are immigrants as were 67 percent of the additions to the U.S. science and engineering work force between 1995 to 2006. And roughly 60 percent of engineering Ph.D. students and 40 percent of master's students are foreign nationals."

American mathematic proficiency levels leave a lot to be desired if we're to maintain competitiveness. For blacks and Hispanics, it's a tragedy with little prospect for change, but the solution is not rocket science. During my tenure as a member of Temple University's faculty in the 1970s, I tutored black students in math. When they complained that math was too difficult, I told them that if they spent as much time practicing math as they did practicing jump shots, they'd be just as good at math as they were at basketball. The same message of hard work and discipline applies to all students, but someone must demand it.

And here is another story, makes one weep, I tell you, this soft bigotry of low expectations is killing our kids. Go read that story about a NY School from the perspective of a black girl. I quote:

Her mother, Annmarie Miller, a nursing assistant at a hospital in the Bronx, recalled a cousin’s reaction when she mentioned Rudi’s pick: “You have to be Chinese or Indian to get in there.” A co-worker, also black, “said the exam is built to exclude blacks because it’s heavy on math, and black people can’t do math,” Mrs. Miller said.

Why isn't there any discussion about family? I demand high performance from my team and my family. My parents did the same. Why is this idea that blacks cannot do math? What a bloody fool of an idea. I quote from a comment:

At one time people used to complain that there was too high a percentage of Jewish students in these schools and now they complain of too many Asians.
When I arrived in NYC in 1959 the complaint was also about the percentage of Jewish students and graduates at City College.
Can the answer be that the parents of both these groups inculcated in the children an academic drive and work ethic that helped them to succeed and still does.
Apparently this young black woman has a family that does that for her, helped by her own nature. We have to look into the family culture and values and also that of peer pressure.

1 comment:

Personality Development Courses said...

Great Article about the Personality Development Courses. Please update more new its more useful to viewers.