Last year I wrote On the Decline of Mathematical Studies, and ever was it so, which looked at several examples of people complaining that the new generation of mathematics students were not as well prepared as the current one, with quotes from the late 20th C, mid 20th C. and even from the early 19th C. I wondered whether the problem was one of perception, or whether mathematics teaching could really be in constant (or, as Tony Mann pointed out, cyclical) decline.

I have just read ‘Mathematics at the Transition to University: A Multi-Stage Problem?‘, an essay by Michael Grove (of the National HE STEM Programme, which supports my project) which offers an interesting view on this question. Though the complaint, that students are not prepared for university courses, sounds the same, Michael suggests the root cause and manner in which this problem manifests itself has changed. He backs up his argument with findings from several recent reports. His essay is worth a read if you are interested in this issue.

Having identified a possible root cause for the current situation, Michael also makes recommendations for what can be done to address this and points to relevant work the Programme is doing.

I think Michael Grove stating ‘students learning by rote rather than through their own independent techniques’ hits the problem squarely on the head. We need students to be fascinated and enthused by mathematics. Then they will think, explore and innovate for themselves. Focusing on exam results has only resulted in increasing students’ ability in passing exams but not necessarily understanding.

I speak about this on Pod Delusion 114.