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Dumbing down the UK

http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/04/25/1625216

This is probably old news to the crusties from the UK, but it is being felt all over the world.

Here in the State of Washington, they are contemplating removing the tests on math because so few students are passing them.

Re: Dumbing down the UK

What's really scary is the errors in the sample english test. The test states,

"Angle ABC is a right angle." The test shouldn't have to say that, the square in the corner of the triangle defines it as a right angle.

"AB=3m, BC=4m" Geometry is unitless. AB=3, not 3m. (The Chinese test does it correctly.) It took my first instructors some time but they finally pounded that idea that into my brain until it stuck.

Shees, when the instructors are that bad, no wonder the students don't learn.

Re: Re: Dumbing down the UK

If would rather have a bunch of people wandering around putting units on their geometry problems than the same bunch failing to put units on the rest of their work.

Sadly this might be construed as an example of the precautionary principle.

This means I have to disagree with myself.

QUICK, where's the nearest shrink.......

Re: Re: Re: Dumbing down the UK

The thing that really amuses me is the self-referential aspect of the name of the phenomenon.
Anyone with a smattering of German must notice the connection with the German "dumm" meaning stupid. "Dumbing down", so far as I know, came to English via American and it looks as though it came phonetically. So now we have "Dumming down" dummed down to make it sound as though the sufferers are bereft of speech (which they are usually spectacularly not!).
Why haven't the politically correct hordes shrieked that this is an insult to the "otherly abled"?

Re: Re: Re: Re: Dumbing down the UK

What do you mean, exactly? The English word dumb has, for a very long time, in its primary sense been a synonym for stupid. So the phrase "dumbing down" can derive from the English word and still quite happily have the intended meaning.

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Dumbing down the UK

No, I think in standard English, dumb just means mute. Its alternative use as 'stupid' is slang originating in the USA in the 1920s according to "The Cassell dictionary of slang" by Jonathon Green. Even in the USA, it doesn't seem to be standard American English, according to this link:

http://www.bartleby.com/68/78/2078.htm

"dumb, mute (adjs., nn.)

These synonyms mean “speechless, unspeaking” and are Standard in that use: We were struck dumb [mute] with surprise. Dumb also has a longtime Conversational sense, “stupid,” which may be either a cruel extension of the “speechless” sense or an adoption of the Pennsylvania German dumm. There are also other extended senses of dumb—a dumb barge is a barge with no engine, for example. In recent years some mutes have found dumb offensive as a description of their disability. Deaf-mute seems to be an acceptable term at present to replace deaf-and-dumb both as noun and adjective."


But before political correctness really came in, deaf-and-dumb people (mainly people who have been deaf from birth and so don't attempt to speak since they have no idea what they sound like) had already switched to calling themselves deaf-mute.

Re: Dumbing down the UK

It may be true that in China pre-university tests in mathematics are generally more difficult than some tests set at British universities. However, it is likely that, for this comparison, the Chinese problem was selected for its difficulty and that the British problem was selected for its ease. It is likely that students in both countries are set problems with a range of difficulties.

There is not much specific information given about where either problem is set. Most British universities do not have specific entrance tests beyond A-levels or their equivalents from other countries. So, are we to assume that the Chinese problem is set for students intending to take a Chemistry degree at university and that the British problem is set for those already taking a chemistry degree?

The difficulty of the curriculum in each degree subject varies from university to university, with the best being able to accept the most numerate students and and poorer universities unable to be so choosy.

Re: Re: Dumbing down the UK

The specific question referenced in the UK test is a simple application of the Pythagorus theorem.
In my schooldays this was primary school maths.
As such it has no place in any University level test. Any person unable to complete this correctly is unqualified to study at University regardless of the subject chosen. In my view any school lever unable to solve this is unqualified to push an "idiot stick" let alone handle a more demanding job.
It is impossible to be sufficiently condemnatory of the staff of any educational establishment that permits its pupils to leave at such an unsatisfactory level of attainment.

The Chinese example is also fairly poor in a more interesting way. The notation appears to have changed since my schooldays but, if I interpret things correctly, hidden inside a rather confusing diagram is a fairly simple problem in Euclidian geometry. Given the requisite amount of drilling and routine practice to be able to visualise what is wanted and what's going on the problem is trivial. However its debatable if that sort of learning is of benefit to a University student and quite likely that the time spent in achieving proficiency could have been better spent in acquiring wider knowledge.

Re: Dumbing down the UK

The solution that came to my mind for part (iii) of the Chinese problem was to use the law of cosines from spherical trigonometry, as it has an analogue in determining the length of a side of a spherical triangle when you are given the length of two sides and the angle between them. There might be some other method of solution, perhaps using vectors, but I cannot recall one from memory.

Re: Re: Dumbing down the UK

Spherical trigonometry is probably a good general approach applicable to any problem of this type but sounds like too complex a way round things for school level maths.
I recall similar styles of problem from my schooldays and the approved answers were produced by applying what we were supposed to know of Euclid enhanced by some special to the type of problem rules. 40 plus years on its fairly obvious that the problems were chosen specifically to be soluble by such methods and attempting the general case with any random real world construction would likely lead to tears and tantrums. I imagine that my teachers were concerned more with establishing 3 D visualisation and demonstrating that "flatland" rules could, with appropriate care be applied to the real 3D world.
However I was, at best, an indifferent student of such matters being even then more engineer than scientist at heart (I had a very, very big box of Meccano) and was regularly rapped over the knuckles for cheating an answer instead of attempting formal mathematical proofs.