‘Poor Numeracy Blights the Economy and Ruins Lives’ was the BBC headline from last week and, although sensationalist in its tone, I agree that this is the reality.
We may not always be conscious of using our mathematic knowledge and skills in adult life but we use them each and every day to some degree and without them would be severely hampered, both personally and professionally.
It was widely acknowledged in last week’s media coverage that text book teaching of maths is largely to blame for much of our inadequate numeracy skills and thank goodness this has finally been recognised. Text book maths can be dull and is often daunting and, while the basics can be taught in this way the majority of what is useful and relevant in mathematics is most effectively taught and enjoyably learned when it is applied to real life scenarios and across other subject areas. Mathematics taught in this way can be engaging and exciting.
At the Foundation we have found that by Year 9 (age 13-14 years) students can reach an ability level whereby they could function in a professional work setting. This then begs the question of why teach maths past this point? Teaching maths past GCSE with the same creative flair as it is taught in earlier years can be a challenge – students may find it difficult to see the application for matrices, differentiation, integration, quadratics, and the demands of abstract Maths in A2 can become a real burden. But, for students who persist with mathematics past GCSE there can be real advantages in later life. One possible route for non-mathematicians in our sixth form is the Maths Studies element of the IB course. Based on the principles of applied Maths, this course is a much more appropriate and satisfactory syllabus for the student not seeking to specialise in Mathematics.
Mathematics is about creativity, insight and precision. Working at this more advanced level, teachers should aim not to obscure the underlying mathematics, but to make it come alive. Only in this way will students be truly persuaded that the pursuit of this beautiful subject is of importance to them, understanding that maths can not only be useful but also creative and fun.