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Agency slams Swedish maths teaching

Peter Vinthagen Simpson · 19 Oct 2010, 10:39

Published: 19 Oct 2010 10:39 GMT+02:00

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"Many high school students are not given opportunities to really understand mathematics. They thus risk losing the necessary skills for a future career and life in society," the inspectorate said in a statement on the report.

The inspectorate has studied and assessed the teaching of mathematics at 55 high schools in Sweden and concluded that the overall standard is below par.

"Most of the 150 classes which we attended are dedicated for the most part to the mechanics of calculation. Teaching which trains problem solving and mathematical creativity took a back seat," said Monica Gillenius at the inspectorate.

The study looked at whether teachers at Sweden's high schools follow the national curriculum, finding that many students are not taught the full spectrum of maths, receiving instruction in only limited areas of the specified course.

The main conclusions detailed in the report are that many teachers lack sufficient knowledge of the curriculum, they make classes unnecessarily complicated for students who are not sufficiently challenged, and that results differ considerably between school tests and national examinations.

Furthermore the report concludes that many pupils feel under-stimulated and think that maths is boring.

The results of the survey have been compiled into a comprehensive report, with each school receiving demands and recommendations to improve.

"In order for all pupils to receive the education that they are entitled to, a focused and vigorous development in virtually all the examined schools is required," the inspectorate concluded.

The Local reported in December 2009 that the performance of Swedish high school students in maths and physics had declined considerably in the last decade in an international comparison.

According to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) Swedish pupils had dropped the farthest in both maths and physics among the four countries which participated in the TIMSS in both 1995 and 2008.

In the 2008 study, Sweden had fallen to second to last place when it came to students' knowledge of maths among the ten countries included in the study.

Story continues below…

Sweden was also found to offer less class time in both maths and physics compared to the other countries in the study.

Monica Gillenius cited Japan as an example for Sweden to follow.

"Their teachers reason together over teaching methods. They determine a problem and talk about how they can teach in order for it to be comprehensible for the students," she said.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

11:40 October 19, 2010 by Nemesis
Swedish maths teaching is quite bad and getting worse.

There needs to be reform so as to bring in better teachers and better ways of teaching.
11:45 October 19, 2010 by byke
Generation X .... I wonder if this current swedish generation would even know what the X stood for?
12:04 October 19, 2010 by EtoileBrilliant
To be fair this is a problem with most European countries. There is too much emphasis on soft skills from the age of 16 upwards. As a result science based curricula suffer as there are hardly any skilled teachers covering these disciplines
13:20 October 19, 2010 by Nomark
You're not allowed to say that. The soft skills are extremely important in a dynamic society/economy osv. The idea of tough intellectually rigorous courses is so out of date (except in China and other emerging economies)
15:35 October 19, 2010 by Ranjit T Edward
The standard of Maths is appalling in Sweden. This is something they should have figured out years ago. I used to volunteer in the local school, and I found even teachers who openly showed an aversion to mathematics. This decline probably also stems from the home front, as many parents do not hesitate to openly state that Mathematics is boring.

The solution is to instill the importance of mathematic and to have a conceptualised approach in teaching...After all, everything in the natural world works on the beauty of mathematics: In minuteness that leads to magnificence!
16:37 October 19, 2010 by Swedesmith
Being a teacher, a good teacher, is a tough job. It requires lots of time to prepare, it takes a lot of patience and it is an art that not everyone can master. Unfortunately, the financial rewards are not great and, therefore, many bright, young people are not attracted to the field. Also, in tough economic times such as these, the profession takes a hit. In America now, teachers are being laid off in droves, and their salaries and pensions are being reduced. School funding overall is being reduced. This is like the farmer who, facing a tough winter, grinds up next year's seed to feed his livestock. True, it gets him through the winter, but come spring, when he has nothing to plant, he will be very sorry.

If Sweden is to be a player in today's global market, then the "hard" skills (math, science, language, etc.) need to be stressed.
17:09 October 19, 2010 by Jannik
Its no surprise that knowledge in math and science are dropping at an alarming rat e.

This is an on going tendency in most parts of western Europe, especially in the scandinavian countries.

When the number of gymnasium students during the last couple of decades has been steadily rising, dumbing down and feminization of the curricula will be the result.

There is only a limited amount of intellectual talent in a population, the reserves have been exhausted a long time ago.

The current hordes of gymnasium students, are on average, less talented and more lazy compared to previous generations. The will to some degree avoid the hard subjects, like math, science, and possibly, foreign languages, because of the significant higher work load, and the higher cognitive demands.

So the results are not surprising, the lowest common denominator will naturally rule in these circumstances. And unfortunately, it is very low.
19:41 October 19, 2010 by repat_xpat
When my kids were in Swedish schools, the math education they offered was a solid 4 years behind what they were getting in the US. What's worse, we offended the teacher's by suggesting that our kids should receive Math education at their current level. Seems like that request was counter cultural to Sweden's egalitarian model. The Swedish education model seems to be to target the lowest common denominator, then everyone will be equal.
19:55 October 19, 2010 by mojofat
Who has time for math and science when important subjects like creationism and jesus worship need to take precedence...I mean, what did math and science ever do for mankind?
00:04 October 20, 2010 by Da Goat
Very well said Mojofat

maths and science are sub-subjects of the two subjects that you mentioned

the powers that be want to dumb the kids down so they accept what they are told by rote and don't bother thinking too hard to do maths or science !

they don't want the people putting 2 & 2 together and finding they have been screwed over! They don't want us to work things out for ourselves.

if they were to teach science and maths people will see clearly that creationism is indeed science !

why does creation stick to Fibonacci golden numbers for example?

because things in creation are mathematically perfect we have to do fancy computations to work out that the creators logic is better than ours!

in fact the natural world is still above our understanding (we are only now getting close) the technology is much better than ours (by miles)

and most idiots think that, that superior technology happened by chance (are they morons or just plain stupid)
09:15 October 20, 2010 by Puffin
One thing that the Skolinspektion report was VERY critical of - which The Local does not take up is grading and schools giving high grades to keep students happy

Schools are free to set their own grades - they don't *have* to give a big weighting to the National Gymnasiet exams - the Inspectors found that there was a huge discrepancy in Exam results and the grade set in maths

There has been a big grading problem especially at certain free schools - there was a big scandal at some free schools in Skåne a couple of years ago where a number of free schools were marketing themselves as MVG (Grade A) factories and guaranteeing spots at top Universities - for example many students FAILED the national exams in maths but were still awrded MVG/A grades
10:49 October 20, 2010 by roaringchicken92
Educators must imagine that there's not enough "real world" applicability for advanced mathematics; on the contrary, it teaches common sense and problem solving, two thought processes shockingly on the wane in the world today.
12:23 October 20, 2010 by Happyfisk
The lower classes (1st to 6th graders) are not much better. I'm disappointed that they only start to teach additions and subtractions of numbers between 1 to 10 to the seven year olds. In UK and most other countries these were taught to pre-schoolers. The 3rd graders haven't even start on multiplication tables. I think there is severe lack of qualified maths teachers in Sweden to start with.

There is nothing challenging for the young minds and they got disinterested eventually. For a country that gives out nobel prize every year, they sure cannot groom their own intellects. What a shame.
15:03 October 20, 2010 by Syftfel
The "below par" verdict by Skolinspektionen is a direct result of the lowering of standards as dictated by the social dems for years with their misguided, ridiculous, "jämnställdhetsprincipen". Rather than emphasizing the teching of math they have dragged down the educational level to the lowest common denominator. Thus "everybody will be the same". One can only hope that the new Swedish governement tackles this and other such educational fiascos. Perhaps Sweden could learn from Finland in this regard.
12:39 October 21, 2010 by DavidtheNorseman
Math is hard mental work. Subjective courses are much easier. I found the following amusing:

"... they make classes unnecessarily complicated for students who are not sufficiently challenged..."

In a world where knowledge is exploding the need to address maths education is a problem for every jurisdiction. The Province of Ontario in Canada has done one of the best jobs I've ever seen at introducing Math concepts to the lowest grades....seems to be working at bringing the overall math comprehension up in conjunction with standardized testing goals.

Reality is only some people will *ever* be able to do Non-Standard Analysis, IMHO....love to be proven wrong!
16:18 November 5, 2010 by SGJamie
Just so you all know, the current curriculum is shall we say.... only a couple of pages in the curriculum book and just about one page is dedicated to högstadiet which prepares kids for "high school" or gymnasieskolan. Also, the curriculum goals or benchmarks are written as what kids "should know" when leaving the 9th grade. It does not break down curriculum materials into the different grade levels. This is why teachers have no idea what to teach. The government has not written a curriculum guide for these teachers to tell them exactly what to teach and at what level. I know with the new school law they are working on this, but it is not near enough as what these teachers. Teachers should not be expected to be so knowledgeable to know what kids should learn and at what age or we will have a school world of thousands of different opinions. The government here needs to get on the ball and write ONE curriculum guide all teachers can follow for their subject area and execute it to the best of their abilities. The curriculum guide in Ohio is 240 pages long JUST FOR MATH! The guides in Ohio are broken down into different books for each subject area. The national standards written by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is 402 pages long and each state is supposed to write their curriculum based on that book. I read both books cover to cover when I was taking my secondary education training to teach math at Miami University in Ohio. I am appalled at how the curriculum document in Sweden is written. When I was teaching English here a couple of years ago I kept asking the fellow teachers, "When do you teach this? When do you teach that?" and I got a hundred different answers and a few guesses. So, it's not entirely the teachers' faults. The government here has a lot to work on to help the people who are expected to teach with no direction. When the teachers get a solid curriculum, then the spotlight can turn on them when things are still bad.
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