Maths idea doesn’t add up

Written by: Tim Fryer | Published:
I totally agree with you. Teaching pure maths is usually a waste of time beyond the basics. It ...

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George Osbourne is considering making maths compulsory up to age of 18. I believe he is wrong... Just so there is no doubt, I passionately believe that the future of science, engineering and manufacturing is directly tied into the fortunes of our country in the future.

I am trained as an engineer. I believe that STEM related vocations are the most inspiring and important in modern society. I get the need to encourage young people into engineering and am firm supporter of the various efforts that many in and outside industry are making to inspire children down this route.

But to make studying maths until the age of 18 compulsory is not the answer. That was the proposal in George Osbourne’s budget and was such an isolated throwaway comment that I confess I would have missed it had I not had a budget response from the Institution of Engineering and Technology in which head of policy Paul Davies, should the maths plan come to fruition, called for ‘practical’ maths to be taught and also highlighted the lack of suitably qualified teachers.

On this last point it seems that teaching A level maths is going to require a much larger number of degree level maths graduates as teachers, which depletes the pool going into industry.

But my main objection, despite my STEM bias, is that with the best will in the world, if people are not interested in maths then shoving advanced maths down their throats is going to do no more than alienate them from maths and potentially the education system as a whole. Ensuring schoolchildren come away from school with a reasonable aptitude in numeracy is one thing – a good thing – but trying to force feed pure and applied mathematics on students with neither any use nor interest for them is a waste of their time and a school’s resources.

Far more would be achieved by making engineering a compulsory subject in its own right and teaching it from a much earlier age. That might make maths more relevant from the outset as well.

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Maths as taught in the university is abstract and in the realm of imagination. 90% of the concepts taught would never be applied in life. While maths help reasoning, it does not contribute much to creativity and innovation.
Maths & physics used to be taught in an integrated manner - with, quite often, the physics leading the maths. This approaches emphasises the maths from one end and the science from the other. Teaching maths in isolation may have some benefits but will lose many people and detract from the interest in the subjects that it is applied to and relevant to. Students I have taught who appreciated it were usually from industry (though not always). If the maths can be made relevant for all these 18year olds at once then maybe...
You are absolutely right. I hated Maths at school it was so dry and boring. I never even learned my times tables by rote - what was the point I thought. I did however want to be an engineer, so I struggled to get O Level maths - it took me 3 attempts. I abandoned school two terms into the A level curriculum I just couldn't get a grip of the maths. I became an apprentice engineer and continued my studies. I never failed another maths exam. The maths began to make sense and was no longer just abstract ideas that had no obvious relevance to the life I wanted to lead. I have had a successful engineering career and am close to retiring as a company director of a company where I was a founder member. On the way I collected an HND a Polytechnic Diploma and a masters degree in a mathematical subject from a respected respected red brick university and was awarded the graduation prize. I did all this because of my passion for engineering and enabled by the flexibility of the system that allowed me to develop through a slightly unusual route. Imposing Maths in isolation on children who see it as boring and irrelevant will not work, it will just create even more people who regard themselves as failures.
I totally agree with you. Teaching pure maths is usually a waste of time beyond the basics. It should always be taught from an applied approach, preferably engineering. Imagine if they tried shoving Shakespeare down everyone's throats until 18!
I totally agree Tim's comments.
I myself went through an apprenticeship and higher education some years ago and still remember how difficult pure and applied mathematics where and how to apply them in my day to day employment.
It again show how much MP's are out of touch with our real world.

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