Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Who's counting?

First up, thanks to liturgybuff and covenanter who have both recently posted comments; as user-friendly as Blogger seems to be, I can't quite work out yet how to show recent comments on the sidebar, though I'd like to. Bear with me...

Anyway, here's the thing: how often do any of us have to do basic arithmetic these days? It's hard to find examples from real-life - and the old answer of "when you're shopping" doesn't really hold up under scrutiny in these modern times. Do you see people keeping a running total as they shove the trolley round? No. Do people work out a rough total? No. Does the shop assistant? No. The computer on the till does the work, and maybe - just maybe - you have to count out some notes, but more likely you hand over some plastic and cross your fingers. (And if you need change, the assistant doesn't work that out either.) Does anyone check the computer's calculations? Hardly ever.

Y'see, speaking as a teacher, we do teach kids the basics, honest. And things are a whole lot better now that the main exams have parts where you are not allowed to use a calculator, unlike in the 80's and 90's, when kids were welded to their calculators. So in theory at least kids should be getting better at the basics.

But, but, but... surely the important difference nowadays is that there's hardly any contexts where they then have to use these skills. Whereas for those of us who lived in a time before computers could do all the work, it was pretty important to be able to do the maths, or rather arithmetic, and you weren't short of opportunities so to do.

And this throws up a question of precisely what we should teach these days under the banner of mathematics. If it's just for personal finance, then as far as I can see kids need to be able to do the four basic operations, understand percentages and maybe just a tiny bit of fractions, though you could maybe get away without that. Under current guidelines this content would be covered and understood by a notionally "average" 14 year old. Meanwhile, maths is compulsory roughly to age 16.

Should we let kids get away from the subject early? Am I talking myself out of a job?

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