chapter  1
21 Pages

Statistics: past and present

THE STATISTICS CURRICULUM Until recently, the way in which statistics developed prior to the 1960s has tended to determine both the content and the methods of this subject’s teaching and assessment. Developments in statistics are still on-going and these should continue to have an impact on statistical education. It is a fairly common experience among statistical educationalists, however, that teachers and examining boards have been slow to respond to the changing nature of statistics and to recognise that it is essentially an applied subject which can, and should, be brought within the reach of all. It is not a subject only for mathematicians, in spite of its strong mathematical underpinnings. In order to convey this, a curriculum and a pedagogy which break with traditional (deterministic) mathematical values are needed; As long as students believe there is some way that they can ‘know for sure’ whether a hypothesis is correct, the better part of statistical logic and all of probability theory will evade them. (Konold, 1989b)

In addressing the 2nd International Conference on Teaching Statistics in 1986, J.V. Zidek showed that, for most of its history, statistics has been an applied descriptive discipline, derived from many fields of application, but particularly from those where it was necessary to describe things to do with the state, such as economics and politics:

Nevertheless, it is statistics’ relatively brief theoretical episode this century, stimulated by the works of Karl Pearson and R.A. Fisher, which has had a disproportionate influence on the way that the subject has tended to be taught in schools and colleges. To Zidek, the development of a satisfactory statistics curriculum has been difficult because of the lack of a suitable foundation for the subject: There are not yet sound footings for statistical graphics, for example, nor for statistical computing and exploratory data analysis . . . In the more traditional areas of inference and decision there are lots of directions but

One accepted aim of secondary, further and higher education is to prepare our students for the real world and its needs - needs which are reflected in the mirrors of society, namely television, newspapers and radio. Even a cursory glance at media publica­ tions makes society’s reliance on statistics obvious. There can be no doubt, therefore, that we must have a statistically literate population, one in which lay persons are able to appreciate statistical arguments and even produce them. People do not merely receive data arguments, they act on them, and contribute to social, political and economic decisions based on them.