Is technology the answer?

Clare Dean

Can new technology help to reverse the decline in the popularity of maths?

Around 500,000 pupils annually take part in maths competitions but the numbers taking A-levels in the subject have fallen by 15 per cent since curriculum reform was introduced in 2000.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke says that maths helps clarify his thinking. However, for the past 11 weeks he has been strangely quiet on plans to revamp the subject.

On Friday he gathered advisers to discuss the Government's response to the Smith inquiry into maths. The long-awaited investigation recommended paying maths teachers pound;5,000 more.

Across London, academics and technology experts met at a hotel for their own discussion on the subject - and the role information and communications technology might play in reviving it.

Adrian Oldknow, visiting fellow at London university's Institute of Education, told the RMTES round table on maths that technology already in place can improve the way maths is taught in secondary schools.

Digital cameras, digital videos and geometry software can all be used to boost pupils' interest by bringing the outside world into the classroom and showing how mathematical theory applies to everyday life, he said.

Not all the participants were so enthusiastic.

Professor Tony Gardiner, reader in mathematics at Birmingham university, said a return to traditional teaching rather than new technology was needed to engage young people.

Without that there may not be a future for the subject, he said.

"The national numeracy strategy has focused miserably and narrowly on a small mental world.

"Maths teachers have a very mundane job. I do not think anything in school is exciting.

"The whole point of school is that you do not get excited. You last from Monday to Friday.

"Getting people to find the attraction, the joy of nailing problems or getting them wrong and being annoyed with yourself is the only thing that keeps people going."

Myf Powell, education manager at RM, said: "The short-term goal is to get more students to enjoy maths more often.

"There are various ways to do that and ICT has a role in helping maths to be cool. All too often pupils are switched off by traditional methods.

Technology can encourage pupils to start to take an interest."

Other low-tech suggestions to boost maths included waiving tuition fees for maths graduates and giving schools greater credit for maths A-level results in school league tables.

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Clare Dean

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