Scientific Program > Topic 9 > Session 9B >
Presentation 9B4. Is It Reasonable to Teach Statistics without Probability or Probability without Statistics?

Jules J.S. de Tibeiro (Canada)


Presentation Abstract
In the last 23 years I have been teaching Statistics from 1977 to 1980 in Africa (Zaire), from 1980 to 1985 in France and from 1985 in Canada (Quebec and New Brunswick).

I taught mathematics at the Secondary schools in 1974-1975 in my native country Zaire in Central Africa. Textbook in elementary Statistics suitable for use in primary and secondary schools were practically non-existent. Most schools in Zaire did not, at that time, have access to educational programs on television. Another technological obstacle to Statistics was prevalent: pocket calculators could not be sold cheaply enough for every secondary school child in Zaire to be able to buy one. The use of the computer for statistical work was also practically non-existent and not within reach of most developing countries.

Canadian and French children begin at the age of infants to play games that allow them to develop a concept of probability from about the time they start to count and read, so they have a vast store of experience to draw on when they begin a formal study of the subject.

The teaching of Statistics in France remained fairly formal and was not connected with experimental subjects. Teaching probability without introducing Statistics before-hand was dogmatic ex-cathedra and computational. Pupils, did not often grasp the interpretation of the numbers they are calculating ... Teaching, especially when calculating probability, was very theoretical because the influence of pure mathematics is very strong in France.

Most Canadian provinces include some descriptive Statistics, as well as some elementary probability, in their regular mathematics courses, beginning usually at the intermediate level. The most frustrating problem, when teaching Statistics in New Brunswick is not linked to the mathematics base developed in schools but in the development of language. Students often only understand the mathematical concept if it is explained in both English and French. Thus, my teaching involves preparing the students at a language level and not a mathematical level.

With the advent of computers that calculate everything automatically, some teachers present Statistics without presenting the necessary mathematical concepts. There are also very few Statistical textbooks, either in French or in English, with Canadian content. Teachers must choose between hard-to-understand textbooks from France or model-based American textbooks.

Thus, in Africa, students have the desire to learn but lack the proper educational resources and mathematical leaders. In France, the schools are too selective when they admit students to the upper echelons of learning and the teaching of Statistics is based too heavily on pure theories of probability. In New Brunswick, Canada, the opposite is true. They have all the resources readily available, but very little time is spent examining the theories upon which the calculations are based. Thus, it reasonable to teach Statistics without Probability or Probability without Statistics?

On every continent, where I have taught, each country has to improve their teaching of Statistics, so that the proper balance between Probability and Statistics may be reached.


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