Teaching of Maths

So, the latest headline gimmick to support the teaching of maths in the UK – send for the Chinese!

I am not convinced that the problem with maths is as serious as some like to make out. We don’t measure up well educationally when compared to places like China and Singapore and this is perhaps as much to do with culture as it is with teaching. Also, the data can be unreliable and skewed by a sizeable under achieving tail. The oft quoted group of critics, the employers, will probably always find fault with job seeker’s basic skills – standards are never what they were!

One cultural problem we do have is that many of us regard maths with trepidation and do not have good classroom memories – we probably transmit some of this to our offspring and round we go. I suspect that we do need a serious change in the way the subject is taught and by whom. If we are to change the culture we need to focus on younger children and their parents and perhaps we need to recast maths as a language – we make sense of the world in words and in estimations – both things our brilliant brains do well. ‘What is it called?’ and then ‘How big is it?” How far away is it?” – both questions having both a word and a numerical answer, from the very earliest age. Specialist maths teachers are not necessarily the only or the best qualified to address a subject that can be defined as ‘philosophical’. As ever, it is parents who hold the key.

I suggest that this is where we need to have a debate. I also suggest that, along with everything else in education, the constant political interference is part of the problem. I can remember vividly being taught the binary system in the 1960’s – this was to equip us for the computer age! I think it was soon dropped. I rarely remember any one explaining to us clearly why we were doing this. Even in today’s pressured classrooms, time to explore the relevance of a topic can often be squeezed out.

How to make words and number equal partners in how children begin to make sense of the world – now there’s a research project.


Reaction and evidence- the blight for education and much else

Individual human beings tend to organise their lives around evidence driven decision making. We base decisions on the impact evidence we have accrued over our lifetimes; cause and effect, the great lessons of learning by doing. Important decisions cause us to take stock and mull over everything we know, as well as the collected wisdom of others who we might consult. Career moves, big purchase decisions, how we treat other people, the management of our health – all informed by what we know about the impact of previous activity.

This process also relies upon being able to see the wood from the trees. Sometimes we plod on without realising the truth staring us in the face. One current example concerns hospitals. Why are the ambulances stacking up outside casualty units? Not enough staff inside the hospital and  too many ‘casualties’ are the obvious answers. If we can reduce the number of ‘casualties’ we could solve the problem. We need to find ways of helping  people access  local medical care, in particular, the burgeoning population of the elderly who clog up the system because there is nowhere else for them to go.  More local ‘hospitals’ for the majority who do not need the main hospital’s specialist care, is surely one solution.

Education does not always afford such accessible, observable evidence. However, there is some. One clear piece of impact evidence that we do have is the known cost of making changes to schools and curricula in terms of money and time. Another is the current decline in the numbers of those who want to train as teachers or even take up posts as headteachers.

In this case, it is not ambulances stacking up, it is teachers leaving the building. In both cases, surely such major impacts cry out to be the places where we need to look for answers?In this time of great challenge for all of our public services and the welfare state, surely the facts should overpower the prejudices? If that doesnt suit certain newspapers, it should certainly be the duty of the politicians.