The mathematics education in the whole world stands in bad need for reform. The education quality is getting worse. We expect our children to be less capable than us in mathematics due to the low quality mathematics education at the high school level. I do not blame the high school teachers and I do not think that it is their fault. This problem is due to policies and regulations which the teachers really have no hand in.
The policy making is overshadowed by the war between the advocates of traditional education and progressive education. For example the progressive educators in an attempt to improve the mathematics education they created a number of new curricula which were collectively known as New Math. This mathematics was created by university mathematicians. It was about sets, relations, and functions. The teachers were not yet prepared to teach this type of mathematics. This was because they were never given enough training on how to teach it. Besides, the teachers failed to see the importance of New Math. New Math went down quickly and failed within one decade. It left a disastrous legacy that made new proposals for major changes in school mathematics looked upon negatively and steered lots of criticism. This also made the battle between the two major parties of policy making intense.
If we look back at this experiment we see that the main reason behind this failure was because of policies and not because that the new created mathematics field was not useful or suitable. The idea was good but they failed on how to implement it. The implementation of New Math should have been gradual. It should have been accompanied by courses and workshops that teach the teachers the concepts of the subject, why it is important and how to teach it.
The good part about this experience is the coordination between university and high school. The university created New Math to be taught in school. We can learn from this experience that university can take an active role in high school education. After all students study mathematics in school in order to be able to go to university and be successful in engineering, science, or mathematics. If the school student is not well trained in the mathematics in school they will become poor university students and may drop out of university.
A good policy that the education managers could take to improve school mathematics education is to ask universities to support schools in mathematics education. I am not saying that the mathematics departments of all universities should get involved. First of all the mathematics departments’ teaching staff should vote whether they want to get involved in school education or not. Then the departments that vote for this project should ask several members of staff to be committed to it. The university usually approaches industry to solve some of their problems. They can approach schools the same way. They should thing of the school education as the industry of producing successful students which they need at university.
The first problem that will face the mathematics department is that the school teachers may feel threatened by the university staff and feel that they will be replaced. This is why the school teachers should be assured that the prime goal of the university staff is to improve them as teachers and help them do their job better.
The university can help schools in many different ways. For example they can run summer classes for teachers. These classes should go into the depth of the conceptual understanding of the high school mathematics subjects. In addition the classes should teach how the mathematics can be reflected into our real world. It should emphasize how to solve real life problems with mathematics.
Moreover, the classes should introduce the teachers to the many diverse and innovative software calculators. The teacher should learn how to use these calculators to create mathematics laboratory work. They should learn how to make mathematics projects that can be solved using software calculators.