Nov 10, 2011

IDB promotes new methods for teaching numeracy and sciences in Latin America

Games, computerized tutors, and using experiences to solve everyday challenges are suggestions for World Science Day

Games, practical experiments, and critical thinking are new methods for teaching math and science that elevate performance and stimulate learning in teachers and students, according to recent studies and projects of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

“We as parents, teachers and policymakers want to make sure that children learn to read and write, and we forget that math and science are essential for development,” says Emma Naslund-Hadley, Education Specialist of the IDB. “If children do not have a good basis in these areas, they will be in no condition to face the future. Math and science help children use logic and become independent thinkers, and have better tools to solve real world problems.”

Since 2008, the IDB has undertaken pilot programs with learning methods that contrast with memorization, copying on a blackboard and long lectures from teachers in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Peru.

The 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results show that students in Latin America, compared to their counterparts in more developed countries, are behind in both math and science. If the growth rate of the last 10 years is maintained, according to IDB calculations, Latin America will need 21 years to reach the average math scores of their developed counterparts and 42 years in science. For the most part, the education systems in Latin America and the Caribbean do not have the mechanisms that aid children and adolescents in developing basic knowledge of these subjects.

Things are improving slowly. During the three years of their implementation, several of the evaluated programs reveal changes in teacher teaching practices and improvement in student learning outcomes.

Argentina: Math for All

Were you ever caught playing in school when you were not supposed to? In Argentina, students caught playing are no longer punished. On the contrary, it is part of the education system in which students and teachers learn better. Games have become an ally in teaching and the results have been successful.

Math for All, as the program is known, was initially implemented in a school population with close to 4,300 students in the Province of Tucumán in Buenos Aires. It did not take long to see its effectiveness. Students and teachers were stimulated by learning, and were eager to use scientific methods. The project is being replicated in other parts of the country.

The average results in the text increased by 44 points (close to half of the standard deviation) compared to the 19 points that students obtained in the traditional program. The impact was particularly strong in Buenos Aires, where the difference between the two groups was 34 points.

Peru: Science and Environmental Programs

A new science and environmental pilot program helps Peruvian students develop troubleshooting skills for scientific problems through challenges that spark their interest and stimulate imagination.

The program reveals challenges and designs that children can use to take advantage of day-to-day activities that spark their interest. They work in groups to develop their own solutions to science problems. Likewise, it includes a main tutorial to ensure teachers get help during the new approach used by the student.

The Science and Environment Education Model has been piloted since 2010 in 10 provinces and 62 districts in the department of Lima.

The results within the first year of the pilot, implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Education in Peru and LEGO Education were reflected in the children’s grades. For example, in the physical world module, there was an increase of almost 8 percentage points for students in the third grade that used this new pedagogical approach in comparison to those who learned through a traditional method.

Brazil: Tem mais Matemática

“Tem mais Matemática” has been applied to the State of São Paulo since the beginning of the second semester of 2011. This is geared toward students in the final fundamental education years.

The program combines the aid that low performing students need with the possibility for students in a teaching career path to develop practices during their initial training.

“Tem mais Matemática” offers tutoring to almost 600 students in 7th and 9th grade with basic learning. The sessions take place after school hours two times a week during the last quarter of classes.

According to education specialist Marcelo Pérez Alfaro, “the program is still in execution but it appears promising. Soon we will be able to see whether this model helps in closing the poverty gap between students with lower learning outcomes.”

Paraguay: Tikichuela, Mathematics in my School

Tikichuela, which in English translates to “mathematics in my school”, is being implemented in Paraguay´s Cordillera department. Five thousand children and 400 teachers have benefited from this model that is based on audio classes produced by local actors, including students. The characters in these audio based classes have become very popular amongst preschool students.

Through these tools, books, song and dance, children learn math abilities, such as basic arithmetic, geometry and spatial relationship. The program uses low cost materials such as bottle caps and local seeds.

The program´s first year is ending soon and the tests will reveal whether or not the students are becoming more curious about the world that surrounds them, and finding solutions to problems will translate into better results.


More Information

Emma Naslund-Hadley
IDB Education specialist

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