U of Saskatchewan engineers not making the grade
By Joe Jimenez
Engineering professors at the University of Saskatchewan are pointing the finger towards funding cuts and lack of preparation from high schools in response to the 50 per cent failure rate for first-year engineering students at their university.
John Stephenson, a professor of mathematics at the University of Saskatchewan, said the level of preparation students bring with them from high school has never been lower.
"During the 29 years I have been teaching there has been a 20 to 25 per cent increase in the failure rate over the last three years," Stephenson said. There is also an average of a 50 per cent failure rate for first-year students in applied mathematics.
In a test administered by Stephenson's colleagues, 70 per cent of first-year engineers failed a Grade 10 algebra test originally written for students in the late 1930s. Over the last 60 years, there definitely has been grade inflation, Stephenson said.
"A 75 per cent [grade] a decade ago is equivalent to an 85 per cent now," he said.
Stephenson blamed the university's financial troubles for the dramatic increase in failures, citing the example of the College of Engineering reducing its admission average from 86 to 65 per cent to fill more seats. At the same time, students have to rely on lectures, since no tutorials are offered, he added.
The dean of engineering at the University of Manitoba, Donald Shields, also said he sees a trend towards poorer preparation.
"Given the funding cuts, which amount to almost 25 per cent, we no longer have the resources," Stephenson said. He added universities are also being forced to re-teach remedial math to a number of students.
Paul Sullivan, chair of applied mathematics at Western, said he believes Western has very good students. The failure rate of last year's applied mathematics course was only 15 per cent but he noted there has been a marginal decline in the level of preparation from high school over the last 10 years.
"In order to overhaul the system, there has to be a complete systematic plan," said Sullivan. "Change must occur from the beginning and occur over a long period of time."
Daniele Gauvin, communication officer at the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, said the changes outlined by Sullivan have already ocurred. She explained new curriculum for Grades 1-8 has been implemented which allows teachers to know what to expect from each level.
Gauvin says the phasing-out of Grade 13, along with the new curriculum for the whole education system, will allow educators to bring students into the modern era.