Students Becoming Less Prepared for University Math Courses

“Don’t do meth, do math. It’ll mess you up twice as much,” says Yifan W, a student from WCI. Every year, many post-secondary institutions omit their math requirements for particular science programs, showing that students may not be as ready for university math courses. There are many reasons why this could potentially be happening, including dropping math following grade 11 only to realize they need grade 12 math as a prerequisite for their program, or teachers not preparing them properly. So why are high school students dropping math after grade 11? Why are they getting lower grades in university? And why do so many students hate it so much? How do we fix this?

Manuele Santoprete, a professor of mathematics at Wilfrid Laurier University offers his insight on why students might be struggling in university math courses: “Historically in Ontario there was grade 13, and the students were a lot more prepared, and when they dropped grade 13, there was a big change. As well, the number of students coming to university now is a lot higher than it used to be, so now you get students that before wouldn’t have gone to university, and you get either a lot more failure if you leave the course the same as before or you have to make it easier.” In addition, Dr. Santoprete observes that a large number of students don’t show up to class. He explains, “One of the big problems right now is student attendance. Students don’t actually come even if they lose marks for it. Even if attendance is worth 5-10% of their grade, a lot of them still don’t come.” All of these factors play a huge role in why so many students are unsuccessful in university mathematics courses.

A former math student in grade 12 from WCI, explains her views on math and why she decided to discontinue it. “If you miss a day you’re screwed. Teachers always tell you to ask them if you don’t understand a concept but then they never have time, or they’re too scary and unapproachable and that needs to change.” She feels very strongly about her decision to stop taking math and, at this point is confident that she will not regret her choice.

Leo S, a student at KCI explains what he looks for in a good math teacher. He says, “They should give encouragement and make it more personal; don’t just show us how to do it, explain how it’s done.” As well, Rachel W, a student at WCI has had her fair share of math teachers. One that stood out for her was one that made class interesting and enjoyable. “A math teacher once said to our class, ‘equations are like catching a bird, because you must observe the bird, and you must study the bird before you can catch the bird.’ He was strange, but a good teacher.”

There are many methods that can improve performance in math classes. Dr. Santoprete, suggests, “One way to improve student success is to use clickers so that students participate more. Research has shown that the attention span in students is 15-20 minutes, so breaking up the class and asking them to do questions. Also, enforcing to do work at home, because they usually don’t do it if it’s not graded.”

Evidently, according to multiple different perspectives, students are not as ready for university math classes. However, there are many ways for teachers to make high school courses more interesting and understandable, so that they continue to enjoy math and so that they’re more prepared for university.