Thursday, 5 January 2023
What the young should learn
Yesterday our Prime Minsiter, Rishi Sunak anounced five priorities for the remainder of his premiership. For some strange reason the pre-announcement for the speech (now called a "teaser" I believe,) didn't mention any of the five priorities, but concentrated on his apparent determination for all students to study mathematics up to the age of 18. The reason why his PR departement decided on this tactic excapes me. However, since almost everyone has had an education of sorts, everyone thinks they are experts on it and most hold strong opinions, so it could be a useful distraction. Most people, in their "expert" opinion, believe that the young should learn what they learned. In my own father's case this included the abilty to recite the rivers of Yorkshire in order from north to south. As I could never do this (geography was not and is not my strong point) he never regarded me as properly educated. I've discovered when using this illustration when speaking to Roary Clubs, that many of his generation take the same view. Mr Sanak atended a posh public school and probably received a highly academic education which incuded both Classics and mathemenatics. Towards the end of my full-time teaching career I was fortunate to attend a course for teachers who were teaching some maths but whose principal qualifications were in other subjects. The course director pointed out that unitl twenty years ago (forty now) there was one subject which was regarded as absolutely essential to develop rational thinking and an orderly and enquiritng mind. That was Latin and "Look what has happened to that." The nessage I took to mean is that there is nothing super-duper wonderful about the study of mehamatics which will spill over into more fulfilling, responsible and useful lives. We need to think very carefully about what mathematics we are teaching and why. The primary purpose of education is not to prepare the young to be prductive workers, but to "open windows:" - to introduce the youhg to all the wonderful things the world has to offer, in literature, art, mathematics, music, engineering, physics, biology, history, geography, languages, performing arts or what you will. Some will taste, decide it's not for them and move on. Most, we hope, will find at least something to get exceited about and enjoyment from. For some it will be mathematics. They will just love artihetic, delight in geometrical relationships, and enjoy discovering unknowns through algebra. These enthusiasts will go on to higher things. Those needing nathematics to suport their interest in other areas (carpentry for example, or astro-physics) will learn to manipulate what is necessary. Others will find maths eithr a bore or a mystery or paossibly both. What mathematics is necessary to live a functionig life as a citizen? There is little point in plodding through painstaking methods of calcualting manually what can be done in a flash by a machine. For expample, I was taught how to calulate a square root using an algorithm similar to long division. So were most of my generation. There is litle point in attenpting it now that the result can be found by the press of a button on even the chapest of calulatiors. If you'e curious you can find how to do it here: https://www.onlinemath4all.com/square-root-by-long-division-method.html The essential tool for moderern citizenship is a thorough understanding of basic statisices. For example, when the rate of infation falls will prices stop rising? (No they won't). The average pay for nurses is said to be around £34 000 a year, which seems to me to be quite a good screw, but what is the median pay that the middle group get, or the modal pay that most get? Those don't seem to be reported. When Mr Sunak in his Chancellor of the Exchequer days increased employees' National Insurance Contributions from 12% to 13.25% was that a rise of a mere 1.25% or over 10%? This and the many related statistics bandied about by politicians are the mathematics with which all citizens should be familier. If this is what Mr Sunak has in mind I'm all in favour.
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The essential tool for moderern citizenship is a thorough understanding of basic statisices. For example, when the rate of infation falls will prices stop rising? (No they won't).ReplyDelete
That's not statistics. That's calculus.
The average pay for nurses is said to be around £34 000 a year, which seems to me to be quite a good screw, but what is the median pay that the middle group get, or the modal pay that most get?
That is statistics.
When Mr Sunak in his Chancellor of the Exchequer days increased employees' National Insurance Contributions from 12% to 13.25% was that a rise of a mere 1.25% or over 10%?
That's not statistics, it's number theory.
(Clearly more maths education is needed)Delete
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You do like to quibble. The point is that the young need to learn how numbers are manipulated to describe the circumstances of life. This is much ore important for the non-specialist than , say, how to solve quadratic equations. Simon Jenkins in today's Guardian agrees:ReplyDelete
"Maths sceptics such as John Allen Paulos and Conrad Wolfram have pleaded for arithmetic to concentrate where it is really needed, on the role of statistics, proportion and risk in everyday life."
The point is that the young need to learn how numbers are manipulated to describe the circumstances of life. This is much ore important for the non-specialist than , say, how to solve quadratic equations.Delete
The point is that the skills needed to manipulate the numbers of ordinary life are the same skills needed to solve quadratic equations. If you can do one you can do the other; if you can’t do one then you won’t be able to do the other.
If you can’t understand quadratic equations then you won’t be and to understand differentials and if you can’t understand differentials you won’t be able to understand, say, why simply reducing the rate at which public spending is increasing will not reduce the national debt.
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
Here’s a good question: what branch of mathematics should people study in order to enable them to correctly identify the exact lie used on each Liberal Democrat campaign leaflet bar chart?ReplyDelete
Touché: but they are not usually lies, but distortions - just what the young should be taught to spot.ReplyDelete