Too few qualified maths teachers in secondary education

Summary

Secondary students are having trouble reaching the required level of maths knowledge in order to graduate, and the problem is that their teachers don’t have Master’s degrees in mathematics, says the Belgian Mathematical Society

Engineers, biologists teaching maths

Too many secondary school students aren’t achieving the eindtermen – the final requirements for students to graduate – for mathematics, according to a survey carried out by the Support Point for Test Development and Surveys at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven). The survey examined the results of 5,600 students from the sixth year of secondary school.

In response to the survey, the Belgian Mathematical Society is calling for the recruitment of more teachers with a Master’s degree in mathematics. The society’s vice-president Philippe Cara, also a maths professor at the Free University of Brussels (VUB), told public broadcaster VRT that the survey results were shocking and pointed out that earlier research showed that the eindtermen in maths were also not being achieved in the first two years of secondary school.

Cara said that one of the biggest problems is the lack of a strong mathematics background among new maths teachers. Only about 20 teachers with maths degrees chose to work in Flemish education last year.

“It’s becoming almost impossible for schools to attract mathematicians, which means that maths education is being carried out more and more by economists, informatics, biologists and engineers,” said Cara. “I don’t mean to say that they are incompetent, but in some of these educational programmes, the dedication to maths is rather limited. Giving lessons in maths requires special skills and a high level of knowledge of the discipline.”

Cara suggested training for maths teachers with non-maths backgrounds and a reform of maths education in general. It takes six years to become maths teacher in Flanders, while four years should be sufficient, he said.

Flemish education minister Hilde Crevits admitted there is a problem and that decreasing the time to get a diploma could help attract more students to the discipline. She said that one option could be to integrate teaching studies into the Master’s degree in mathematics, so students wouldn’t have to earn a second diploma to become a teacher.

Photo courtesy StampMedia

Educational system

The Flemish educational system is divided into two levels: primary (age six to 12) and secondary school (12 to 18). Education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and 18.
Types - There are three educational networks in Flanders: the Flemish Community’s GO! network, and publicly funded education – either publicly or privately run.
Not enough space - In recent years, Flemish schools have been struggling with persistent teacher shortages and a growing lack of school spaces.
No tuition fees - Nursery, primary and secondary school are free in Flanders.
1

million school-going children in 2013

30

million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013

11

percent of boys leaving secondary school without a diploma