Friday, 14 November 2014

Mathematics, Education and School

I have just started watching a TV programme about peoples' numerical skills in the UK. It claims that around half the adult population has the mathematics ability of a primary school child (ages 5-11 I think).  So if half of the population has learnt nothing about maths from 11 onwards, then it seems to follow that no purpose was served in them attending maths classes from the age 11 onwards.  At least not in terms of their education.

This seems to me to be a deplorable situation when we consider that mathematics is the second most important skill that we should acquire at school; the most important of course being English Language. There again many peoples' English language skills are also equally abysmal and they don't seem to have learnt much in this subject after 11 years old either.

Yet people harp on about how incredibly important school is and claim it's disadvantageous for a child even if he or she misses a single day. Well, if we are to believe this statistic, then at least for half of us this doesn't appear to be true.

Consider also that apart from holidays children are required to attend school 5 days a week from 9am-4pm (in my day, might be 9-3 now?). It seems to me that to a significant degree we are robbed of our childhood and in engaging in childhood pleasures such as playing, or reading, or doing any one of innumerable pleasurable things. Instead we are compelled to sit in classrooms where a significant proportion of us learn very little and are presumably bored to tears. To rub it in further UK Government ministers keep proposing that children should attend school at an earlier and earlier age, and do more homework!

Although this might sound surprising to many, I actually regret not playing truant in my school days. I learnt next to nothing before the age of around 14.  In all honestly being compelled to attend school up to the age of 14 was a lamentable disgraceful waste of my childhood.

It seems to me there's something really seriously wrong with the whole system. I've asked many people what a 1/3 divided by a 1/9 equals.   A good majority of people give me the wrong answer -- most often 1/27.  This suggests that they either do not understand what a fraction is, do not understand what "divide" means, or quite possibly do not understand what either word means.  The answer is of course 3.  1/3 divided by a 1/9 means how many times does 1/9 go into 1/3.  Since 3/9 is another way of expressing 1/3, then the answer is 3.

And many people use "your" rather than "you're", loose rather than lose, "noone" rather than "no one", there instead of their or they're.  The list goes on and on.  I should hasten to add that my grammatical skills are not particular impressive, but the good majority of people have even worse skills in this area.

I don't know the methods by which children have been taught in recent years.  But clearly -- at least for mathematics and English language -- a serious rethink in how children are taught these subjects is in order.  It also seems to me that reducing the hours we attend school might be a good idea -- perhaps attending 9am- 12pm for 5 days a week.  It frees up more time for children to pursue activities of their own choosing, and possibly might ignite a greater interest, and hence a greater understanding in the subjects being taught if  they are not being continually exposed to the same subject matter.  I'm interested in the philosophy of mind, but if I were compelled to think and write about it for hours every day, then that flame of interest might well be in danger of diminishing. 

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