Mathematics is an increasingly unpopular subject at school because of its lack of relevance to everyday life the sudden increase in difficulty at GCSE level and its association with being a ‘nerd’. One proposed solution is to no longer make the subject compulsory at GCSE level and instead include mathematical skills in more popular subjects.
All the Yes points:
- The underlying skills used in GCSE Mathematics are important.
- The alternative curriculum suggested is too confusing.
- But only if it’s taught better
All the No points:
- The GCSE syllabus does not encourage young people to be interested in maths.
- In general, making things optional instead of compulsory can increase their popularity.
- Mathematics is a niche subject
- Students should instead take humanitarian subjects.
- The skills are already taught by science.
- Maths is too wide a discipline.
- Most things learnt in mathematics GCSE do not help the average person in day to day life.
- Mathematics is pointless for the un-mathematically minded, the extreme right-brained, and the creative etc.
The underlying skills used in GCSE Mathematics are important.
According to Dr. Steve Bramall, plus.maths.org Opinion page (http://plus.maths.org/issue12/editorial/index.html):
‘Mathematics is not a matter of remembering formulae to do long multiplication, solve quadratic equations and find areas of triangles. Those may be among its raw materials, but maths is about identifying patterns, recognising structures, investigating the logical consequences of hypotheses. These skills are necessary before anything else when making a decision, passing a judgement, using a computer or reading the news.’
Many of these skills can be learnt in other subjects. For instance, when studying philosophy, it is important to identify the underlying logical structure of an argument and test whether it is sound or not. Learning to program on a computer requires identifying the type of pattern you want the computer to follow and translating it into the formal language of the code. Besides, the IT curriculum should be capable of teaching people to use a computer and Political Studies to interpret the news intelligently, otherwise what use is it to study these subjects at all?
The alternative curriculum suggested is too confusing.
While we can teach mathematical skills in digital music and web design classes or just let the kids play Sudoku, it will be a lot more complicated and indirect. The students will not know whether they are being taught maths or another subject and eventually all the lessons will become mixed up into one confusing mess where nothing concrete gets taught.
The categories of subjects, lessons and assignments are artificial divisions anyway, a tool meant to help students with the overall goal of receiving a well rounded but thorough education by making it more organised. If the system doesn’t work and isn’t a good tool for the job, it should be changed. Currently, the system doesn’t work because the students aren’t happy and aren’t learning Mathematics well.
But only if it’s taught better
Mathematical and logical thinking is essential to a strong mental development. This is the kind of thinking that mathematics classes should be teaching. Instead, children are taught for hours on end how to calculate – when we have the most powerful calculating machines ever conceived in the palms of our hands.
Almost every GCSE maths question can be answered by WolframAlpha. That is abhorrent. We should be asking our children to answer questions that even the most powerful calculating machine in the world can’t answer – creative, pure mathematics, that requires mental leaps and imagination.
The GCSE syllabus does not encourage young people to be interested in maths.
During the GCSE years – the last two years of secondary school – the curriculum for maths changes from the basic skills needed to understand mathematics in everyday life to subjects such as algebra and trigonometry that have no use outside preparing them for A-level mathematics. Students are discouraged from being interested in maths as they can no longer use it, it is too complicated for them to learn if they are not already enthusiastic about maths and have the right midnset for it, and it has a reputation as a niche subject for nerds.
According to Professor Andrew Hodges in the Guardian article ‘Who Needs Maths?’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2007/nov/13/schools.uk)
“We should be trying to find ways of equipping children with the basic maths they will need to function adequately in society. I’m sure there are wonderful examples of good teaching practice to be found in schools, but the curriculum is very prescriptive and most teachers don’t have the time to be creative. We should be looking at ways of teaching maths skills through other media, such as electronic music and web design, that are more relevant to most students.”
This suggests that we need to change the syllabus, not make it optional. If it has a bad reputation because it is a poorly designed course and then it becomes optional, nobody will take it.
Many other subjects have the same reputation as mathematics. It is not a peculiarity of mathematics that young people are not enthusiastic about studying it. History is just long, boring lists of dates, physical education is running around a cold field in shorts,, general studies and life skills are wishy-washy subjects that anyone can pass and employers know aren’t real subjects. The fact is, school and learning in general do not have a particularly good reputation. The very existence of the concept of a ‘nerd’ – the negative stereotype of an intellectually adept young person – demonstrates this. We cannot make learning optional. We need to adjust our underlying negative attitudes to education in general.
Professor Andrew Hodges does not advocate ‘NOT’ teaching math/s but rather using more innovative/entertaining ways/means to do so. Therefore keeping pupils/students interested enough to effectively grasp the very important subject.
Given that basic mathematics skills are a necessity in everyday life and in every subject there is on offer; its proper teaching should be made compulsory at the (I)G.C.S.E/G.C.E/I.C.E level.
In general, making things optional instead of compulsory can increase their popularity.
The very fact that Maths is compulsory is causing it to be unpopular. People do not want to do what they are forced to do. People enjoy and wilfully enter into voluntary work but hate and dread their paid work, even when it largely involves performing the same tasks and one has the added incentive of pay, because they feel they have chosen to do the former while they are forced into the latter because of the need for money. Young people will do the compulsory subjects ‘just because they have to’, putting very little effort into them, while focussing their time on the topics that they choose to do. Making mathematics an optional subject will make it appear that it is the same as another GCSE, meaning that they will choose it because they are interested in mathematics, then be happy and motivated to study it.
This is not a universal attitude. Young people of a very ordered mindset will like the structure and stability of knowing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. They may feel insecure and confused about having to make choices. Others may equate ‘compulsory’ with ‘important’ and believe that they can relax and not do as much work for the ‘softer’ optional subjects. Some will realise that, while there is some leeway, all of school is actually compulsory and they have barely any real control over what they do, and so they won’t be impressed by making a subject optional.
Mathematics is a niche subject
Mathematics has a very limited application. Yes, it is needed to make a career in a niche field such as web design or banker, but general arithmetic is all that is needed to gain acceptance into most jobs. Where our curriculum is going wrong is by trying to teach children the depth of maths when the reality is they only need the basics in order to gain access to the majority of jobs. Why should a niche subject area that only grants access to a limited amount of employment sectors be compulsory?
This could be fixed by changing the Maths curriculum just as easily as it could by making Maths optional.
Students should instead take humanitarian subjects.
Mathematics has limited application in real life. We will never have to as part of our daily lives, sit and reflect on the meaning of Pi. As well rounded individuals however, we will be required to make moral calculations, we will need to assess and analyse our selves and those around us. This is a daily occurrence that does affect our lives. Therefore, we should replace compulsory maths with humanities. The only maths that should be compulsory is general arithmetic. This would leave our children with more time to learn skills they will actually use throughout their lives as opposed to for one GCSE exam.
As Dr Steve Bramall, Professor of the Philosophy of Education at London University, stated; we can ask a financial advisor for moneytary advice, but to ask someone to make our moral decisions for us is an abdication of our responsibility.
Making humanities compulsory would result in humanities being hated by students who feel forced to study it. Religious Studies is already compulsory at GCSE in many schools and is usually dropped at A-level.
Making humanities compulsory would not guarantee that the humanities curriculum is put together competently and is useful for making day-to-day moral decisions. The Mathematics curriculum is badly put together, so why would the Humanities curriculum be any better?
The skills are already taught by science.
When seeking employment for most jobs, employers look for the A*-C in English Language, Maths and Science. We need English to communicate, so this is a logical requirement. Science is the logical and practical solving of problems so this is a logical requirement showing good judgement. Then what is the need for maths as a discipline? If we take a shop worker, we can see how it would be desirable for them to have English and science GCSE’s to a high calibre, but math? Many argue that maths teaches logical skills, but this already occurs in science in a practical way; putting the theory into practice. Therefore, science already teaches children the skills that maths is claimed to teach.
but mathematics forms the basis for science. Science can be near impossible to understand let alone master without having acquired at least basic mathematics skills; prior.
The fact that so many subjects(mentioned in the no points) use skills learned/taught in mathematics only exemplifies the importance of it becoming a compulsory subject.
Maths is too wide a discipline.
If we took math out of the compulsory syllabus and replaced it with arithmetic, children who are perfectly capable of calculating will have more of a chance in the work environment. Children have different levels of ability in maths. You could have a student who is good at arithmetic, but not good at working with formulae and trigonometry. These children are disadvantaged by the current system as their arithmetic skills are being judged by a GCSE that has tested them on less essential material. If we separated arithmetic and math and subjects, then those who are good at daily additions, subtractions and multiplications would be able to show their skills via a formal qualification rather than it being muddled in and watered down with more fanciful but less useful math.
And maybe we should replace English with phonetics?
English language just like math is a broad subject. It’s compulsory because just like math it forms the basis of all other subjects. Making the study of those other subjects than if they were equipped with language skills in the language of instruction.
Math/s is the universal language relevant in teaching/learning of all fields including art.
Most things learnt in mathematics GCSE do not help the average person in day to day life.
Learning, for example, the quadratic formula, is only useful for those who are mathematically brained and those who wish to have a career in higher mathematics, science, engineering.
Mathematics is pointless for the un-mathematically minded, the extreme right-brained, and the creative etc.
For many, the skills taught in mathematics are completely useless. If someone isn’t good at mathematics, it isn’t necessarily because they’re ‘stupid’, but because they just don’t think mathematically. Very creative people who are better at arts and humanities, english etc tend to find maths too restrictive for their minds -they look at things bigger and in more depth etc -for these people. maths has too many rules and is too confined for their minds. Whilst English gives you space to be creative, as well as giving you critical and analytical skills and encouraging you to become an independent thinker. Its not like Maths where you are spoon fed and you have to follow a certain formula or otherwise its wrong.
Obviously maths is not completely pointless, and for those who are mathematically minded I think it is important that their skills and needs are fulfilled and they are given the opportunity to do maths, but as one of the people I have described myself, I find much of the curriculum far too left-brained, logic etc centred, and so I think there should be compulsory basic maths which everyone has to do and only teaches you what you REALLY need in real life, and an optional further maths for the ‘geniuses!’. :)
Mathematics should not be considered as a compulsory subject because it is a science subject and it does not have more influence to someone who is doing social sciences
We would love to hear what you think – please leave a comment!