Say “mathematics” and gauge the reaction
Matthew Boswell considers Mathematics in classrooms in 2017
The lucky few who have actual understanding might smile, the ones who are good at exams might exude confidence, the ones who just get by might look down, and the ones who are convinced they aren’t good at maths might riot.
Are students still working against expectations?
The discontented protestors and the silent ones are a product of a system that values the UK-brand of mathematics over other subjects. The language-enthusiast and potential diplomat, the history-buff and potential lawyer, the child with safeguarding issues and resulting behavioural difficulties feel like they have to work against expectations.
Numeracy and structured thought should be valued.
However, I do not believe that the current government-mandated mathematics curriculum is a measurement of this. For those whose minds do not click with, say, calculus, there should be a numeracy and problem-solving course, accessible for all from the start. It might deal with the maths of balancing a credit card, for example, and logical thinking – and is valued professionally.
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The exam-creature is a product of the measurement of the progress of the Education Department itself.
When statistics become so important so as to influence budget and progress, a teacher will always be pressured into teaching students to recite answers over explaining anything. Teaching for an exam vs understanding is a very present and important problem in education.
Should we be sacrificing a whole cohort?
When the government decides to change the whole mathematics curriculum to focus more on open-ended puzzle problems to tackle formulaic answers, it is an admirable attempt. But once a whole generation of students is sacrificed on the first set of exams, these past-exam papers will then be used to teach the new generation how to pass this new exam format, formulaically. As long as the government values nation-wide result stats, teachers will be pressured to corrupt their students’ education for the sake of results.
Ye olde maths
In a position of power, I would advocate the nurturing of students’ strengths over their competence in what we know today as mathematics. Onto that I would attach a mandatory numeracy and mathematical thinking, without undermining those who truly have an interest in “ye olde maths”.
I would devalue the importance of nation-wide results statistics with regards to how they affect national education decisions.
The wishful thinking portion: One of the ways to do this could be to somehow de-politicise education and have the Education Department separate from, and immune to, the tides of political fashion. Teaching managed by teachers shouldn’t seem like such an unattainable ideal.
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