One of the most common complaints heard by a Maths teacher must be, “Why do we need to learn this?” Even though schools now approach all subjects with a more integrated approach, it is often still difficult to explain to a 13 year-old that it is necessary to understand what Pythagoras was on about so we can calculate (to two decimal places) exactly how far the ladder is from the base of the wall.
Of course most of us realise that most of what is taught at school is done so to lay the foundation for what it is we choose to do in our adult lives. Simple concepts are taught so that we have something to build on when we approach more complex ideas and this has never been the case more than it is now.
Consider for a second this statistic; around 75% of future jobs will involve ‘STEM’ skills. This means that to be competitive in the workplace, three quarters of school-leavers should ideally be pretty darn good at Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. And we’re not talking about being able to build a waterslide in Minecraft – students need to be solid in their understanding of these areas if they’re going to have much chance of getting a decent job.
If we agree generally that this figure is realistic, then these two information bites should worry us;
55% of adults have numeracy proficiency below level 3; their Maths skills are “below the minimum required to operate effectively in the workplace and society.”
If this statistic seems shocking, especially considering we are aware of how important these skills are, then how about this; 40% of students start Year 7 below curriculum expectations. These students “typically don’t understand how addition and multiplication are connected.” There are even articles that go as far as saying that Mathematics in Australia is in a “death spiral.”
Shaping the future
I could continue. My point is that as parents we need to be aware of what skills our children will need when they will be looking for work in the future. Although we might not have a crystal ball, there is no doubt that Maths and the Sciences are no longer just the abstract realms reserved for those boffins who work in the bowels of some remote research lab; they provide a concrete basis for our children’s future.
Rather than looking at all this from a perspective of panic, the flipside is of course that this is an incredibly exciting era for those involved in these industries. Astounding medical breakthroughs, skyscrapers that truly reach into the sky and environmentally sustainably sources of energy that power zero-emission, high performance cars. Both locally and in collaboration with international partners and research teams, there are projects that our generation can literally not even dream of.
This is why I believe it is vitally important that our youngsters have the self-belief that is needed to confidently tackle challenges that require thought and application. Great teachers know this. They also know we all have to start somewhere though. Today the length of a ladder; tomorrow the height of a skyscraper.