More maths? Like so many headlines. It depends what’s intended. This call is not new by any means. It has been repeatedly recognised by Governments, that STEM subjects are of vital importance to the future. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and maths.
Between the ages of 16 and 18, a lot of young people drop maths or anything that looks like maths. Understanding that fact is far more important than any dictate from a Prime Minister.
Let’s list some reasons why forcing this is not so easy as a headline might suggest.
Teaching: Mandating more maths without backing it up with the teachers able, enthusiastic, and trained in the subject will likely generate a negative impact.
Bandwidth: for the average student there’s a finite amount of work they will eagerly take on during a pivotal time of their lives. Developing their talents, whatever they are, is surely a priority.
Relevance: a key part of providing more practical maths teaching is convincing students of its immense usefulness in later life. Understanding how maths is used is as important as learning it.
Technology: Digitisation advances rapidly. Maths teaching must take on-board. For example, it’s important to be aware of what’s happening more than knowing every nut and bolt of an algorithm.
All the above are challenges that can be met given adequate resources and a plan. What we get from the PM’s speech is muddle. Numeracy and maths are not the same. I’ve known people who can do remarkable mental calculations on the spot but who would run for the hills if faced with a quadratic equation or a bell curve.
Yes, statistics do underpin a number of activities in everyday life. However, even when you understand their workings the capacity to make bad choices is more in the judgment than in the calculation.
STEM education is a package. It’s part of everything we do in a complex society. There aren’t many occupations that are not touched by the need to know something about the underlying working of our devices, means and methods.
In the past those supporting the humanities may have spoken-up objecting to an overemphasis on STEM subjects. Now, what artist, writer, musician, historian, or geographer does not use technology in their everyday lives? I’d say more maths but done right. Make it practical.
POST: Prime Minister sets ambition of maths to 18 in speech – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)