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High school reform, the real math problem

It is a widely shared opinion: mathematics is the weak link in the high school reform. And the Minister of Education himself is beginning to recognize this. “I’m not saying it’s a non-issue. It’s a serious subject, and I’m very open to proposals.”he said on CNews, on Sunday, February 6.

→ DEBATE. Should we be worried about the drop in the number of hours of maths in high school?

Since 2019, the general track courses have given way to an à la carte high school, with specialty lessons (three in first, two in final) completing a common core. But mathematics, as such, does not appear there. At the end of the second, high school students have no choice but to stop maths or to continue their learning within the framework of a “spé” at a very high level, at least equivalent to that of the old series. scientist.

The queen of specialties

Admittedly, maths is asserting itself as the queen of specialties, favored by 64% of first year students and 37% of those in the final year. But we are far from the 85% who, in the past, studied them until the end of high school, in S, in ES and even partially in L. The overall volume of math hours taught in high school has logically fallen by 18% between 2018 and 2020.

Girls are also much less likely than boys to choose this specialty. Barely 25% of them receive more than six hours of math instruction per week, compared to 45% before the reform. This risks ruining decades of efforts to feminize scientific training and professions.

A campaign topic

If the minister, usually little focused on self-criticism, now concedes that the reduction in the offer of maths is proving problematic, it is because the subject finds an echo in the campaign for the presidential election. The LR candidate, Valérie Pécresse, for example castigated, in mid-January, on BFM, the weakening of maths as “a perverse effect” of the Blanquer reform and regretted the end of the S sector, “the sector of good students”.

→ CHRONICLE. High school reform: where did the class go?

The Minister rightly retorts that fewer students today study maths, but they do so by choice, with more appetite and demands. But it also needs to draw perspectives. In this case, he only suggests increasing the share of math in the “scientific education” given two hours a week – most often by physics-chemistry and SVT teachers – and not to fully reintegrate math as an autonomous discipline within the common core.

A glaring shortage of teachers

Another avenue would have consisted in introducing from the first the option “complementary maths” offered in terminale to students who have abandoned the “spe” but who, in their higher education (sociology, medicine, economics, etc.), will need to master probability and statistics or algorithms and programming.

If they don’t shout it from the rooftops, some associations of math teachers would be happy with such a solution, less resource-intensive and perhaps more realistic than reintegration into the common core. Because a master’s in math is much more profitable in the business world than in education, their subject is particularly affected by the shortage of teachers. Last year, of the 1,167 positions offered at Capes, 100 could not be filled.


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