UK mathematics education is a sh*tstorm

Tom Golden
Tom Golden

You will struggle to find a definition of mathematics without including the word "and". Defining it is an attempt to bound the boundless.

Yet, people keep trying to do so... perhaps because humans like categorising?

Here is a table of interpretations, by different folks:

Who they areWhat they think mathematics is
Tom, 6Numbers
Tom, 812 x 12 = 144
Tom, 10Infinity plus one
Tom, 12a business; £1 and I'll do your maths homework
Tom, 14I'm good at this, I'll be a maths professor
Tom, A-Levelsdy and dx can go f*** off
Tom, Maths BScexact relational philosophy
Most mums"Oh I was never good at maths, ha ha"
Prime Ministers"We need more kids learning maths"
Big Shaq2 plus 2 is 4 minus 1 thats 3 quick maths

My maths education at school conned me into taking a maths degree under the premise that because I was excellent at maths at school that I must be smart enough to be a maths professor. I remember reading maths books, watching A Beautiful Mind.

Upon arriving, however, I discovered that I did not like studying maths at uni half as much as I liked what I thought it would be like.

That is not to discredit my university; to all accounts Warwick teaches degree level maths in much the same way other top maths universities teach it.

Instead it is to say this; a maths degree is not for most people. It may not even be for most people who want one.

To summarise:

  • Maths degrees are so different to maths at school that kids are incorrectly choosing to study it
  • Maths at GCSE and A-Level is not weighted towards applied maths (including real-life context) and problem solving.
  • There is a point where maths stops being sufficiently practical to be worth teaching to most kids

Career mathematicians owe it to the masses to recognise that for the majority of people, the mathematics they will learn will never be valuable.

So that's the issue; what's your solution?

Mathematics should be restructured to allow students to specialise towards their aims.

At GCSE, Mathematics should be split into two subjects:

  1. Practical Mathematics (mandatory core subject)
    • This GCSE would count double; it would contain double the content of other GCSEs.
    • Maths bundled with its applications
      • You learn the maths and apply it within the same subject
      • No maths is learnt that isn't practical
      • The GCSE in Statistics would be removed and its core added to this
      • Newtonian mechanics would be used here with an intro to calculus
  2. Abstract Mathematics (optional subject, considered science)
    • Maths for the sake of maths
    • Increased focus on proofs, logic and meta maths

At A-Level, Mathematics should be split into full A-Level subjects:

  1. Mechanics / Robotics
  • this would change the content of a Physics A-Level
  • robotics would include a practical lesson
  1. Statistics / Game Theory
  • These subjects when taught together allow students to improve the way they make big life decisions in their personal and professional lives.
  1. Algorithms / AI
    • Akin to "Decision Maths" or Computational Maths
    • Could include concepts like iteration, approximations and practical software (Excel, Python)
  2. Abstract Mathematics
  • Advanced version of GCSE, above

Finally, applied maths should be about applying maths. In applied maths exams students should:

  • not require written working
  • use realistic numbers that require a calculator (and allow students to use them)
  • should write questions to measure understanding of concepts and how to solve problems; not to check if they have memorised a formula

Improving the model of our maths education not only provides young people with more relevant skills to their specialisation, but sets them up with the skills they need to increase the value of their work.

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