Maths isn't just about university

21st April 2006 at 01:00
The move by the Scottish Qualifications Authority to respond to repeated expressions of concern that maths teaching in schools is out of synch with a whole range of requirements perfectly illustrates the dilemmas examinable subjects face (page three). Do they face towards the interests of pupils or teachers, or employers or universities? Maths, like English, has a unique problem in the sense that it draws in all pupils, so there will always be contention over content.

Of course, it is not surprising that maths lecturers want schools to prepare pupils for their discipline and to fit in with their entry requirements; if specialists cannot do their own special pleading, who else will? And there is, or should be, a natural fit between the Advanced Higher and university entry. But it would be wrong for universities, or even businesses, to skew the more general school syllabus to suit their purposes. There is an argument that, of course, schools should provide the foundations and basic competences, but it is up to external agencies to fashion these to their requirements.

The key number skills with which pupils should emerge from school are those such as problem-solving, statistical awareness and personal finance. The more abstruse elements of maths, which most pupils are unlikely ever to revisit, are for later specialisation.

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