The UK’s national ambition to lead in new high-tech industries is threatened by an alarmingly widespread cultural apathy to maths in this country.
Maths is seen by too many students as something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
It is a cultural and an educational problem.
Our experts in education note that young people don’t see maths as relevant to their lives or ambitions.
For the majority of young people, maths is a meaningless subject, with 85 per cent of students quitting it as soon as they are allowed. For too many, maths is just a series of disconnected techniques and formulae. It seems dry and academic.
We urgently need a new approach that makes innumeracy as unacceptable as illiteracy.
These are not new or surprising sentiments, except that they come from Rod Bristow who, as head of Pearson UK, describes himself in an opinion piece in the Telegraph numeracy campaign as “responsible for one of the biggest exam boards in Britain”. Edexcel, he says, “sets and marks one million mathematics GCSEs, International GCSEs and A-levels every year”.
Many people see the problems Rod describes as being driven by the assessment system, so what does he propose to do about it? “With other exam boards,” he says, “we are already in discussion with the exams regulator Ofqual about how we can further strengthen maths GCSEs”. He gives the following recommendations:
Where young people don’t gain a C grade first time at GCSE, the education system must offer new courses which encourage them to continue with maths.
We can do this by associating maths more closely with other academic disciplines such as the pure and social sciences.
Universities should make mathematical literacy a clearer requirement for entry to those majority of courses which will use it.
We must show how maths is applied in careers from construction to web design.
He also recommends learning through serious games.
Engaging computer games encourage the ‘learning by doing’ essential to building numeracy skills, and we should make clear the role of maths in producing those games in the first place.
If we want our young people to excel and lead the way internationally in maths, we must repurpose our maths teaching, learning and our exams, and use the tools of the future to change the ugly sister culture around mathematics.