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What are the chances probability is too hard for kids?

Update: November, 20/2019 - 08:28
Illustration Đàm Minh Chí

Kiều Vân

HÀ NỘI — Recent reports that second graders might study probability and statistics as part of their curriculum from the 2020-21 school year have divided opinion among parents and educational experts.

Most parents are worried that the subjects are inappropriate for their children's age.

However, educational experts have said if primary students become acquainted with probability and statistics early on, they'll stand a better chance of understanding the subject in a comprehensive way.

According to the new general education programme, maths at the primary school level will have three main parts: algebra, geometry and probability and statistics.

This means probability and statistics will be taught as an official subject at primary school for the first time. Trần Mạnh Tùng, a senior teacher of maths at Lương Thế Vinh School, Hà Nội said the anxiety was understandable because the subject had only previously been taught from the 7th grade.

It was also considered the most difficult part of mathematics for university students, though Tung said it might be the most important.

"We have realised the importance of probability and statistics a bit late," he said. "It wasn't until 2006 that Vietnamese students were acquainted with this subject.

“Children in Japan, Australia, the UK, Germany and the US have learnt it from primary level for a long time."

Probability and statistics will be taught from 2nd grade to 12th grade, which Tùng said would help students perform better. However, many older primary school teachers know little about the topic.

Many education experts have said learning probability and statistics from 2nd grade was a positive change.

Tùng said parents should not rush to criticise before knowing what students would learn.

Thu Hồng, a Vietnamese lecturer at New Life Academy of Excellence, the US, told online newspaper that in the US, through illustrations, primary school students learn about statistics and data via daily-life topics like food, family and friends, accompanied by vivid illustrations and playful colours.

Nga Nguyễn, a teacher of Hà Nội’s Nguyễn Trung Trực Primary School, said in the current maths programme, 2nd grade students have had statistics-related lesson, for example: how many students are there in a class, how many boys are there, and how many girls are there.

Of course, these lessons are informal and not part of a system.

"Second grade students have complete capacity to access this new content that has an important meaning in practical use in the daily life of a child,” she said.

Nga said students of 1st and 2nd grade could begin by gathering information on a topic and then interpret the data through simple tables and charts which they draw, which she said was a basic introduction to probability and statistics.

“However, the most important thing is the teacher's teaching method.”

Primary school teachers were not familiar with probability, while statistical knowledge taught in the current curriculum was limited.

Therefore, teaching probability and statistics content in schools in the upcoming school year would be a struggle, said Nga.

According to Prof. Đỗ Đức Thái, main editor of mathematics in the new general education programme, probability and statistics is a required component of school maths education.

However, he said, the content of probability and statistics in 2nd grade’s maths was not too complex and only aimed to get students familiar with the basics.

Many parents were worried that probability and statistics would be too tough for primary students.

“In my opinion, primary schools should only teach children the most basic things to be the foundation for knowledge later,” Nguyễn Thu Hạnh, 35, a mother of two primary students said.

“I know many universities and careers later do not require the knowledge of probability and statistics. So why schools don't focus on teaching life skills to primary students?"

Instead of forcing children to learn probability and statistics from 2nd grade, schools should focus on expanding extracurricular activities, she said.

“Can a 2nd grade child remember, read fluently and write all alphabet and also learn probability theory?" Văn Hùng, a father of two, asked. — VNS





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