One of the big news stories this week was British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak giving a speech on his plans, and it feels like that’s all been forgotten because Prince Harry’s stuck his full body over the parapet again. There was one thing Rishi said, however, that’s relevant to a music website, and a company that runs school for struggling kids: he wants to make the study of maths compulsory to 18. i.e. if you do A Levels, you’ve also got to do maths.
Here’s a quote from Rishi: “In a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, letting our children out into that world without those skills is letting our children down,” and people need the skills “to feel confident” with mortgages and tax.
Now, there’s a number of ways to react to this. You could point out maybe setting up free school meals and solving the need for food banks so children could eat might be more important than the actual lessons they’ll be too hungry to take in. You could say, given how teachers and staffing numbers are being treated, there’s nobody to teach this anyway.
We have to be fair, and we do agree that school maths, such as we experienced it, provides no real grounding for what you need to real life, and if more people had a grasp of finances they’d be able to see the venal con men in government for the money syphons they really are. But all of that could be taught in remodelled lessons at an earlier age. I stopped doing maths at 16, I have never had to use SIN and COS in real life but I do an annual tax return and have mortgage payments to deal with which school did not help with.
But here’s where we’re coming from: every person has a particular skill set, a particular set of loves. For some people, they love maths, or physics, study the subject and go on and do engineering or finance things, and that’s great, that’s their vocation. But many other people do not enjoy or get maths, and their vocation, the thing they’ll love doing and which they’ll contribute to a rich varied society, is arts, music, many other subjects and they will be punished if they have to fail a maths class at 18.
So, Rishi, by all means reformat school maths teaching to be more useful, but first feed kids, have the staff for it, and let kids develop into what they love, not the little cage you want for them.
Also worth noting that popular cultures pre-eminent mathematician, Carol Vorderman, agrees.
MORE MATHS? Hmmmmm
Maybe not so much.
Who needs to know trigonometry?
NOT EVERYONE…..teach practical numbers and how to cope with money and tax, credit, interest rates and mortgages first…
Pythagoras will never speak to me again!!! https://t.co/plSEiCs9eC
— Carol Vorderman (@carolvorders) January 5, 2023