Allyson Gofton: Do the maths - NZ strategy wrong

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Food writer Allyson Gofton says her son learned more maths in rural France than he did in New Zealand.

Kiwi kids have to learn seven ways to work out a maths problem. In France there is only one way. It doesn't add up. Photo / Getty Images
Kiwi kids have to learn seven ways to work out a maths problem. In France there is only one way. It doesn't add up. Photo / Getty Images

We are in France for a year for our children to learn at a village school and to have an adventure.

Our son Jean-Luc is now 10, so last year he was in Year 5 at a small, local Decile 9 Catholic primary school in New Zealand. Warwick and I were called to the vice-principal's office (after many months of issues) to be asked to stay out of our son's homework - his maths specifically, as we were confusing him. I mean how many ways are there to do long multiplication?

Well, we were told seven ways and that the children had to learn all seven ways - strategy was the jargon used - to do it. And, to make it better, we were told that his understanding of the strategy was more important than the answer. My husband runs his own company, employs 30 people and has to make budget lest we fall into the red. Getting the maths wrong means 30 people on the dole. I have no need to tell you what his reaction was to the fact that the answer can be wrong, but if the strategy was okay, our son would have got a tick for his work.

This was after we asked the teacher why he was having difficulty with things like 21 divided by 7? Answer, because 7 is the hardest number to learn and so they leave the 7 x table to last. It is taught 1, 2, 5, 10, then they fill in the other numbers. So he could do 12 x 12 but not 7 x 3.

Rock forward eight months to a village school - in southwest France, peasant and rural - of 47 with one teacher for his class of 22 or so. His teacher, late 50s I suppose, female with good English, sat with her mouth open as Jean-Luc tried to explain to her how he was doing a maths task. She was horrified, she was dumbfounded.

The kids here learn one way and one way only. They set out their maths work differently, they work on graph paper, they show their workings in an orderly manner, anything less is not accepted. It's easy to follow and yes it has to be right. Move on three months.

Last week my son got 100 per cent in maths in long division - he was rapt. All done by hand and with a time limit. In a subject that he hated at home, which he now loves. He is so proud of himself. And we cannot believe the difference in his attitude to maths.

Kids need to learn maths at school - teachers need to be able to teach maths and teach it well. The pluses and the minuses, the times tables, long division. Learning seven strategies takes valuable time away from getting the answers right.

Kids need to be able to do 12 times tables, kids need to be able to do long division and more. Without maths, their opportunities later in life will be severely trimmed.

We were clearly told our son was a maths dunce (although not in those words) and that he should take extra help, for which we would have to pay.

What happens to those who cannot afford this?

Whatever his teacher and vice-principal thought, it was solved here, in a country village school, by a teacher doing it one way, and one way only - and in a foreign language more often than not.

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