Organisation - November 18, 2009

Double Dutch

The current generation of students cannot count and write. Division without calculators or flawless writing without the spell checker is not part of the skills nowadays.

'The problem is not mathematics itself; it lies chiefly in the fundamentals, such as sums within brackets and fractions. These are not properly revised in secondary schools', says Michel van Wietmarschen, statistics teacher at Van Hall Larenstein (VHL).
  He was among the 140 teachers in secondary schools, applied sciences universities and normal universities at the conference Uitgerekend Taal! held on Thursday 10 November in the Forum. The theme of the event, organized by the Platform VO-HO, was transition problems between secondary schools and higher education in the areas of language and mathematics.
  'I have to give a lot of extra tuition especially to students who took Mathematics A in havo. Usually, that works. By making the issues concrete and using applications, students acquire more motivation and understanding, says Van Wietmarschen.
Ton van Boxtel, senior lecturer in the Systems and Control Group at Wageningen University, often comes across mistakes in addition of fractions, and in the use of symbols (such as a - b รท c). Yet, he finds it difficult to say if the present mathematics ability is worse than that in the past. 'When it comes to problem analysis, students in the past took a much longer time to figure things out, whereas they are pretty fast nowadays. They are good in identifying essay problems', says Van Boxtel.
  Student Evelien van Bart had to sit for a mathematics entry exam before she could study Development Studies. 'Many students have difficulty with statistics and mathematics. It's therefore good to pay more attention to these', she feels. Another student, however, says that there is no need for that. 'I did mathematics B, which blends perfectly with the education here.'
Phony research
Language finds itself in a worst state than mathematics. 'About 20 to 30 percent make a mess of it. At times, I'm shocked', says VHL lecturer of communicative skills Hans Hoenjet. 'No matter how good the contents of a report are, if it's written in broken Dutch, people will think that it's a phony. You lose points for that.' In the first year, Hoenjet tackles 'spelling mistakes which Word doesn't correct', such as the spelling of verb forms; in the second year, he looks at style issues and structure. Students who do not make the grade will be offered a remedial course.
  His colleague in Wageningen University, lecturer in scientific reporting Jack Postema, is also setting up a remedial course. 'You have no choice. In particular, the 'dt' mistakes in verb forms often make you cringe', he sums up.
  'Employers who take in newly graduated academics often complain about their language and writing skills. 'Too little attention is given to these', feels Postema. Student Lianne Mulder agrees. 'In teamwork, it's always the same ones who bother about style and spelling. That should be compulsory for everyone. Moreover, spelling and grammar form only ten percent of the final results. Right now, it's as if it's not so important. I have even attended lectures given by a professor who has a spelling mistake on every slide.'
Regional education platform
Wageningen UR, the University of Applied Sciences of Arnhem and Nijmegen, Radboud University and fifty other institutions involved in secondary school education are part of the Platform VO-HO in the region Arnhem and Nijmegen. The platform wants to improve the transition between secondary and higher education. It organizes an annual conference.