To Succeed in the Global Economy, Children Need Stronger Math Skills

Jan 12, 2022


Our children’s long-term success depends on their ability to compete and collaborate with people around the world. There is one language they will all need to use, and it’s not English or French: It’s math. Unfortunately, Canadian students’ math skills are not as strong as those of many of their global peers. In the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (2018), eight countries had a higher proportion of high achievers in math than Canada1. Since 2003, Canadian performance in math has declined.

What Kinds of Competition Will Canadian Kids Face?

Ready or not, our students are growing up in an increasingly competitive world — one in which many other countries are better prepared because they strongly emphasize math competency. What’s more, the pandemic placed a new burden on our students, making it even more challenging to compete with their international peers in math.

Getting into university

Admission into university is more competitive than ever. Even humanities-focused students need high math scores to gain admission.

Succeeding in school

The number of international students in Canada is at an all-time high. Students from math-proficient countries make up the largest percentage.

Securing great jobs

Our labour force is international; the best companies employ people with the highest knowledge and skill levels, no matter where they live.

Working in a strong economy

Canadian industries face increasing foreign competition; sustained economic leadership will require people with outstanding math skills.

Avoiding outsourcing

To avoid having their jobs move offshore, Canadian workers must maintain their edge.

The need for strong math skills is especially critical when we consider the skyrocketing number of job openings in science, technology, engineering and math. As the foundation for all STEM subjects, math is the key to entering these careers.

Missing Out on the STEM Revolution?

Canada has emerged as a world leader in many STEM fields, and as more and more businesses and organizations look to innovate, modernize, and grow, the demand for workers to fill STEM-related positions will steadily increase.2 Yet Canadian employers are struggling to fill their staffing needs. This is due in large part to the fact that a low percentage of working-age Canadians are graduating from STEM programs just 18.6 percent in 2016.3

A survey by the Conference Board of Canada found that Canada ranked 12th out of 16 peer countries in this category, far behind leaders like Finland, Germany, Austria and France. In fact, immigrants hold over half the STEM degrees in Canada.

In response to this, the government of Canada and its federal partners have opened new curriculum and programs to give youth better access to inclusive, hands-on STEM experiences and to help Canadians participate in STEM fields.

Repetitious Drilling Is Out; True Comprehension Is In

One commonly held misconception, by both children and parents, is that math is primarily about the ability to calculate. Although that was never actually the case, technology has made it even less so.

The mechanics of math are becoming less important for humans … But a deep understanding of mathematical ideas and principles, and our capacity to think like mathematicians, are becoming more important. Because without that capacity, we will be unable to navigate the data, numbers, graphs or diagrams around us. 
— Andreas Schleicher, Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

From supercomputers running Big Data analysis to phone apps that calculate restaurant tips, we rely far less on our ability to perform calculations than in prior decades. Instead, computational thinking is the bellwether of success.

Math Tutoring is Part of the Remedy

Much of what our children still learn in school — and are tested upon — is their ability to calculate. That won’t be enough to make them successful in the global digital economy. So increasingly, parents who recognize the importance of math and STEM to their children’s future are choosing to supplement their child’s classroom math education during the K-12 years.

But not all math tutoring programs will take children to the finish line. Stories abound of children who learn to crunch numbers but haven’t internalized the fundamental understanding that builds the foundation for true math comprehension and achievement. Therefore, it’s critical that parents evaluate programs for their ability to make math comprehensible in a way that builds foundational knowledge and that matches their child’s individual learning style. This creates an enthusiasm for math learning, rather than a resistance to math and math-related academic subjects and careers.

Equally important is that a math-tutoring program teach children to think critically and to solve problems independently — skills they’ll use in every area of their lives, forever.

Tomorrow’s workers — today’s children — will need critical thinking and problem-solving skills to compete globally and to address serious issues in a world whose only constant is change. By learning and growing confident in math, they can be ready to take on the world.

12018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) of 15-year-olds.
2The Government of Canada and STEM, 2021
3Wilfrid Laurier University, December 2019


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