Posted by: Administrator | 10/12/2009

Andrew Glass: “Use of Mathematics”

The proposed A Level “Uses of Mathematics” rings some alarm bells based on my experience in the USA twenty years ago.

A new Governor of Ohio was rightly shocked by the abysmal level of numeracy and literacy of schoolchildren. He instigated a fairly low level state-wide exam for 15 year olds that children could take several times but had to pass to get a certificate. To really ensure compliance, he stipulated that if a sufficient percentage of students from a school did not pass, that school’s funding from the state would be decreased accordingly. The initial academic response was “about time too”. But “the best laid plans of mice and men gae oft astray”. Apart from schools in affluent catchment areas, all of each school’s resources went on getting the necessary number of their pupils to pass the exam; they did little for the kids once they had passed (they had no incentive to do so and every incentive to do the opposite). Consequently, the mathematical ability of university entrants went down quite markedly.

Given the shortage of mathematics teachers in our own schools, schools will be hard pressed to cover both the proposed new course and the existing A Level in Matheamtics. What happens to students whose schools no longer offer A Level Maths but only Uses of Mathematics? Should they be penalised? Any Government will be politically obliged to take steps in that likely scenario to ensure that these students are considered for places in universities in the sciences. But UoM is not fit for purpose for university entry (or really anything else given its lack of content). The LMS and any other mathematical group will be ignored if we complain (as we already are when we complain that the current A Level in mathematics is too easy). Supporting something over which we have no control strikes me as very dangerous. I fully appreciate that we should do everything we can to get young people aware of mathematics, but Uses of Mathematics is not the answer, and until there is far more mathematical content in the proposed course, I think we might be wiser to postpone approving this proposed A Level.

(Admin note: this first appeared as a comment here).

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