Compulsory maths?

Earlier this year, British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak proposed that school pupils in the UK should study maths up until the age of 18. I didn’t think this was especially controversial, particularly the PM wasn’t advocating a focus on maths at the exclusion of all other subjects. Indeed, it was part of a policy to introduce a more rounded approach to the high school curriculum. It wasn’t quite a full endorsement for STEAM, but it did start a debate on the importance of improving levels of numeracy, among other skills.

There was quite a backlash against this announcement, most notably from those involved in the arts and entertainment. Many of them claim to have loathed and resented the subject, and concluded it was a waste of time because they have never used most of what they learnt since they left school.

I find this quite a strange reaction. Performers need to know how much commission their agent charges, or what income they should expect from their album, TV show or film deal. Artists use geometry, trigonometry and perspective all the time. And even celebrity chefs need to know how to interpret the weights, measures and timings of their recipes.

Quite apart from the its importance to the sciences, and its role in instilling numeracy skills and financial literacy, studying maths brings other benefits: it is like learning another language (important for learning coding skills), it plays a huge part in statistics and data analytics, and also helps in the teaching of logic and reasoning, as well as comparative and relational skills.

For those who may say that they simply need to know how to operate a calculator, rather than, say, remembering the manual way to find the square root of a number, you still need to know what buttons to press and why; and you need to have some idea of what the result should be, to make sure you got the process correct.

Next week: Musical Idolatry