Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A country where kids can't do math has a grim future

Honduras is in a constitutional crisis this week, as politicians take on the Supreme Court. Important issues, to be sure.
But there’s another crisis. A major international report on math and science knowledge gave horrible grades to the Honduran educational system.
The Human Sciences Research Council tested math and science knowledge of students in 45 countries. Honduran students ranked at the bottom, with South Africa and Botswana.
Children here aren’t stupid. They start school with potential. But they don’t learn.
The tests were administered to Grade 8 students in most countries, Grade 9 in Honduras, and assessed basic skills and knowledge.
And they showed the school system is failing Honduran kids. Badly.
Take one measure, performance at an international math benchmark. In the U.S., 68 per cent of Grade 8 students reached at least the intermediate level. In Chile, 23 per cent met the standard. In Botswana, 15 per cent.
And at the very bottom, Honduras, at four per cent. Only one in 25 Grade 9 students performed the intermediate level or better in math skills. 
Canada doesn’t participate as a country. But in Ontario, 35 per cent of students met advanced or high benchmark standards.
In Honduras, one per cent achieved the same levels.
Math skills are fundamental. If you’re going to run a business or farm, manage a family budget, plan for your future, you need to be able to deal with numbers confortably.
And the international tests show the Honduran school system is failing to provide students with basic numeracy.
No country - let alone a poor country - can afford to deprive 96 per cent of the population of the basic skills they need to make the most of their potential. The next Bill Gates might be growing up in Honduras, but without a basic education, he or she won’t likely succeed.
There are no easy answers. Schools are closed far too often due to labour disputes, but the government is also incapable of paying teachers on time consistently. Class sizes - perhaps 50 students in five grades - are ridiculous. Teaching methods are antiquated
But if things are going to change for Honduras, a better school system is critical.
The politicians can wage their constitutional battles. Unless students are getting a quality education, little will change in Honduras.