To the question "how many quarters of an hour are there in three quarters of an hour", only half of the students who enter sixth grade find the right answer. An alert note published Wednesday, the scientific council of the National Education concludes to a "worrying misunderstanding of numbers and especially fractions" at the entrance to sixth grade.
For many primary school leavers, "decimal numbers and fractions make no sense. However, the understanding of these mathematical tools is essential to measure any physical dimension, "says the Council, which believes that the next generations "risk suffering from a profound deficit" in an increasingly digital world.
Digital line test
To conduct this study, the scientists relied on sixth-grade entry assessments, including the numerical line test, which consists of placing different numbers on a graduated numerical line. This exercise "forces us to think about the magnitude that these numbers represent, while too many students are content to manipulate them without necessarily understanding their meaning."
But the results are not conclusive. For example, only 22% of students correctly place the fraction 1/2 on a graduated line from 0 to 5 while only 6% manage to place the fraction 3/6. Most of these students "ignore the meaning of the simplest fractions," points out the note, which notes "errors revealing a lack of knowledge of the meaning of the symbols they manipulate". Children confuse fractions and decimals, for example 1/2 with 1.2, or make mistakes in calculations with decimal numbers. Many think that 0.8 + 1 makes 9!
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This lack of understanding affects all social backgrounds. It reaches 85% in priority education, and remains very high (75%) outside priority education and in private schools. In addition, girls make many more mistakes than boys. Worrying, to say the least: no positive evolution has been detected for 3 years, and that this "huge deficit in understanding fractions" is observable throughout schooling. The error rate certainly decreases, but remains very high in the second general, where neo-high school students are still 45% wrong on simple fractions.
Mathematics is making its return this year in the first class in compulsory education, and the scientific council makes several proposals to remedy this delay: introduce mathematical concepts earlier, "in a progressive and intuitive way", whereas currently, decimals and fractions are introduced together with CM1 and CM2, "which probably explains why students confuse them", advances the Csen. The note also proposes to "manipulate concrete sets of objects", to "compose and decompose geometric shapes" or to measure "objects of different lengths". In short, the classical mathematics programs.