Is a maths qualification so important?

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The news this morning that wasn’t talking of riots in London was full of Carol Vorderman saying that children should do maths in school until the age of 18.

I am not sure I agree with that as a simple concept.

I don’t have a maths O Level.  Not because I failed it, but because my school wouldn’t even let me sit it because they knew I would fail it (and upset their pass rates, presumably). So I sat the CSE and got a grade three.  Suffice to say that maths is not my strongest subject to this day.

Does that actually matter?

No.   Why?  Because typical maths teaching in the UK consists of fractions, angles, shapes, volumes, formulas.   I still know that a 12 sided shape is a dodecahedron.   Yet I have never needed to know this for anything other than answering a crossword clue.  Ask me what 7 x 8 is and I have to recite the whole seven times table to work it out.

It seems a lot of today’s Key Stage 2 and 3 curriculum is irrelevant to children today entering the big wide world.

Granted if you are going to be an architect I should imagine angles are relevant.  Or a doctor working out dosages should know about percentages  But for the average person on the street surely arithmetic is more important.   Though I would hope that a calculator would be used, and not just a quick calculation on the back of a piece of paper.

Surely being able to work out whether two bags of cheap apples are cheaper than the Buy One Get One Free deals on the Finest range or being able to work out if a 450g pack of Coco Pops will feed three kids for a week is much  more important.

I remember doing complex arithmetic when I was at school and my dad teaching me to “guestimate” so I was “roughly right” ie  198 + 143 + 6 is roughly 200 + 150.   So once you have 350 in your head as a rough answer you know that if you do add it up and get 320 you probably need to go back to square one.

My dad was told by my school:  “we don’t teach maths this way, Sir, please stop”.   And so I struggled with mental arithmetic and rather than being roughly right I was always “Exactly Wrong”.   Decided I couldn’t do maths and folded my arms in defiance.

Maths teaching in schools needs a huge shake up, I agree.   Surely it is more important for children to be able to work out in their heads that if they write a cheque for £140 a week before payday and they only have £120 in their bank account they are going to get charged £30 for a letter that says “do your maths”.

I am sorry but I think Carol Vorderman is the wrong person to be the “maths spokesperson” for a generation.   Personally, I think she is raising awareness of her own Maths Online business by saying that teaching in schools is not good enough.

I agree that it isn’t good enough.  Certainly when statistics say that only half 16 year olds get a C grade or above at GCSE.   But shouldn’t we, therefore, throw the maths curriculum up in the air and start again?

And anybody who can advertise consolidation loan companies that get people already in debt in to even more debt due to their horrendous APRs goes way down in my estimation.  A theory supported by the Consumer Credit Counselling Service.

Let’s see the worksheet that shows if you borrow £20,000 over 20 years what it is REALLY going to cost you.  Or £100 loan with an APR of 2500% charged by a “pay day loan company”.

Now THAT is a lesson that should be taught at a very early age.  Much more important than working out a quadratic sequence.

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  • I have to agree with what you have said, the way that maths is taught in the majority of schools is not perfect. What I would like to see is simialr to what you have said about having pratical maths be taught. The use of a Quadratic equation is to the most of us only learnt for our exams then forgotten not long afterwards (I know I took A-Level maths, which I failed)

    But, I think that what Carol Vorderman is trying to do (apart from promote her own maths website) is to get children engaged in learning basic maths, she has seen that there is a national drop in the SAT reslts and has jumped quite publically onto this for a bit of self promotion.

    I think that up to GCSE the teaching of any subject should be up to a level where it can be useful later in life. If then your children decide to study A-levels and beyond then teach the complicated stuff. The good grasp of the basics they have got to GCSE will make it a lot easier.

  • To be honest thats pretty much what Carol said though , that maths should be more focused towards modern society. Sorry

  • The more maths you know, the more you discover what it’s good for and the more you marvel at people that have no conception of what they’re missing out on being able to do in their heads, due to their lack of mathematical facility. Sorry, but it’s the bitter truth. For one thing, knowing your maths makes it far more difficult for anybody to pull the wool over your eyes. I’m sure people that cannot spell or punctuate don’t see the point of either, either. You’re right that people need to understand what an interest rate of 250% per day actually means and that it should have very little to do with your age or your date of manufacture, however.

  • I completely agree with you!! We all need maths in our everyday lives. Schools need to attach maths to everyday problems.
    So true about Carol Vorderman and that scandalous Ad – tantamount to theft in my maths book.
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