Our schools teach 19th century mathematics – 12/22/2020 – Marcelo Viana

The pandemic has forced a radical change in the way schools around the world work, and I believe that change will be largely irreversible. I don’t think we’ll be teaching any discipline, especially math, in the traditional way again. Indeed, it is undesirable for us to do this: with the crisis there are opportunities for progress that need to be explored.

On the other hand, understanding the role virtual technologies can and should play in the classroom environment is a challenge that we are far from being able to solve. Human interaction plays a fundamental role in the educational process, and it is not reasonable to believe that the presence of the teacher in the classroom could be replaced anytime soon. In the case of math, the subject is particularly critical, as learning the discipline is an inherently interactive process between the child and the teacher.

In addition to the “how” question, it is also important to ask “what” we will be teaching math in 10 or 20 years’ time. In order to project the future, it is useful to analyze the past.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the German Felix Klein (1849-1925), an excellent mathematician who was also very interested in teacher training, understood that the curricula in Germany and other countries had no longer developed. In his view, schools at this time continued to teach math in the 18th century or earlier, ignoring all of the knowledge that had been developed in the following century.

This prompted Klein to start an international initiative to bring mathematics, discovered in the course of the 19th century, into the classroom and to adapt teacher training to new times. The revolution he initiated has deeply affected several countries, especially the most advanced. Brazil, whose education system is still precarious, was unfortunately excluded from this innovative process and had to continue it much later. Keep walking.

What Klein said more than 100 years ago is still true today. In our schools we teach nineteenth-century mathematics at best. This creates a mismatch between the education we give our young people and the real needs for practicing 21st century professions and for understanding the complex world in which we live. That is the ultimate goal of math.

I will be moving on to this topic soon.

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