Why teach advanced maths to those who won’t need it?

The Independent: Why teach advanced maths to those who won’t need it?      A quote:

There are two problems to do with maths education, it appears, and “experts” feel that these will be solved by making maths compulsory for everyone from ages 16 to 18 (report, 24 July).

One problem is that science and engineering students arrive at university without knowing the maths they will need for their disciplines.

The solution to this, obviously, is to teach more maths to science and engineering students, not to teach differential calculus to everyone else.

The other problem, we are told, is that many 16-year-olds still lack the level of numeracy required for citizenship in the modern world: they are “bewildered and bamboozled by numbers”.To manage our lives and to avoid being bamboozled by the many organisations and authorities who would like to pull numerical wool over our eyes, we non-scientists actually need quite a limited range of mathematics.

Basic arithmetic, a little geometry, the ability to read graphs, some elementary statistics and a little probability theory will probably suffice. All of these things can, in principle, be learnt by 16.

And if we have failed to teach them to young people in the first 11 years of their schooling, the solution is to look critically at what happens over that period, not to add a further two useless years of the same.

Michael Swan

Didcot, Oxfordshire

 

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