We need more maths, not less;Secondary;Sounding off;Mathematics

29th May 1998 at 01:00
Leslie Duffen (Sounding Off, The TES, May 8) asked us to stop teaching mathematics in secondary schools and reduce the subject in primaries tothe teaching of money. This would be a mistake.

We are surrounded by numbers. They are part of our everyday lives. We have to understand fuel bills, measure for carpets, buy food, read train timetables, work out how far our car has travelled since its last service. We have to interpret a bombardment of statistics from advertisements and salesmen.

Many everyday tasks involve addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, fractions, percentages, decimals, measurement, knowledge of area, shape, size and dimension, or the ability to tell the time in digital and analogue presentations.

Mathematics is also a tool of thinking. Anyone who has ever taught a child who has solved a problem in mathematics will know the excitement and joy this can bring. We demean this aspect of mathematics at our peril, for in the present age there is tendency to look only on the utilitarian aspects of any subject, what it can contribute to the national wealth, rather than what it can contribute to our lives in general.

Mathematics is also the language of science. When children start to learn scientific investigation, they are introduced to mathematics as the tool for finding out about the world. What is the relationship between smoking and cancer? In an experiment on light and plants, what was the percentage increase in the growth of a plant kept in three different light conditions?

Leslie Duffen criticised the new "numeracy" approach as just an updating of the old class-teaching approach he had worked with for years in his secondary school teaching. But he is wrong. Having spent much time recently introducing the numeracy "framework" and materials from the Ginn Abacus Scheme into my junior school, I know the new approach is not a rehash of the old but an attempt to introduce clearly defined teaching that is linked to interaction with children and introduces pupils to means of speeding up their calculating abilities. This enables the children to feel they can master the numbers and make them work for them.

I believe the new techniques will allow us to catch up with many of the European countries (such as Switzerland and Holland, birthplace of some of these ideas) and have many more numerate children who are able to gain from the specialist input of mathematicians like Leslie Duffen when they reach secondary school.

Malcolm Bellamy is deputy headteacher of Millhouse Junior School, Laindon, Essex

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