Math Class for Real Life – that’s the title of Yoree Koh’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal (The Future of Everything: The Education Issue, November 13, 2020, pg R2). It discusses the movement to modernize math classes led by people like economist Dr. Steven Levitt (professor at the University of Chicago and co-author of “Freakonomics”), Jo Boaler (professor of math-education at Stanford University) and Conrad Wolfram (co-founder of Wolfram Research Europe). They say:

  • “Math curriculum has remained largely unchanged since the 1950s”, when U.S. math curriculum was revamped in response to Russia’s Sputnik launch.
  • “The fundamental problem with today’s math curriculum is that it doesn’t acknowledge that computers exist.”
  • “Without a total curriculum makeover, math as it is currently taught runs the risk of becoming as obscure as Latin.”

AP math classes reinforce the same outdated curriculum. I learnt this seeing my kids go through AP Calculus in high school few years ago. They were learning material in high school, yes in high school, that I as an engineer barely used in my 20+ years at NASA. AP statistics students are stuck using calculators that few, if any, use in real life, instead of spreadsheets. At the time my kids took the AP Calculus classes, they were not even sure they wanted to pursue a career in STEM fields. High schools and the College Board are making kids learn highly specialized material rather than introducing them to the breadth and beauty of math. College is the place to get in-depth, not high school.

Dr. Levitt suggests condensing “three years of high-school math—typically Algebra I in ninth grade, Geometry in 10th grade and Algebra II in junior year—to two years. Then, devote the freed up time to more relevant learning, such as data science or financial literacy.” That is just common sense. Personal finance, statistics and data science will be required courses at Vidya. Furthermore, Vidya intends to focus on the “why” (mathematical concepts) over the “how” (rote hand calculations and memorizations).

The saddest part of the article, however, is the description of the process to change the state curriculum – state committees, revisions and recommendations, public comments and formal adoption – that takes years if not decades. The pace of technological changes is so rapid now that a truly independent school, like Vidya, is essential to respond to the needs of the next generation.

Muthu Jeganathan

Founder & President
November 13, 2020

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