News Aug 12th 2016

Maths Skills among Modern Students

math problem

If you love maths, you are certainly one of the lucky few. Maths is such a beautiful and useful subject, yet many UK students seem to fear it or downright hate it. While learning the main algorithms seems quite easy, understanding how to use them in any situation and getting a good grasp of mathematics seems almost impossible to many. And statistics seem to agree with us.

What Do Recent Statistics on Maths Skills Say?

A recent study conducted by the Columbia and George Washington Universities has tested the mathematical skills of students from 20 different countries, using 23 specific criteria, to compare their performances. While not the last in terms of performance, UK scored near the lower end, showing weaker achievements in higher-level mathematical thinking, managing data, proportional reasoning, and the application of concepts and knowledge.

Japan, on the other hand, ranked among the highest and showed great investigative and rational skills, which is certainly a result of the way Japanese teachers approach mathematical education. Instead of emphasising various procedures, principles, and the production of right answers, Japanese schools encourage youngsters to think about various ways to solve a problem, share ideas, and use any methods they want, rather than to actually get to a solution. Japan focuses on non-routine, open-ended problem solving, and UK schools should be encouraged to follow their example.

Furthermore, statistics published by the National Numeracy organisation show worrisome figures, stating that numeracy skills in the UK have gotten worse during the last decade instead of better. According to NN, roughly 4 in 5 adults have a low numeracy level, costing the country billions every year and risking to make UK considerably less competitive internationally.

Why Is Maths Such a Problem?

It is clear that modern students and maths are not exactly best friends, but why do they fear this subject so much? Why is it such of an issue? Well, it is mainly because of the educational system itself. Here are just some of the main reasons:

  • First of all, many teachers focus only on results and often put down wrong answers, making students feel inadequate and even less intelligent than others. Mistakes should be valued, as they help us grow.
  • The education system puts too much emphasis on exams and timed tests. Exams are important, of course, but they mustn't be seen as the main goal. The goal should be getting to understand and like mathematics. Timed tests, in particular, are a huge source of anxiety and don't allow students to solve a problem at their own pace, which leads to frustration, stress, and bad results.
  • Maths is often seen as a logical, fixed and boring subject. Teachers should focus on showing students it is actually a highly creative subject, allowing room for imagination and variability - more similar to art than to biology or history.
  • Finally, students nowadays are pressured to get high grades rather than to learn and develop. Therefore, since maths is seen as a more difficult subject, they avoid it as much as possible, choosing subjects that are consider easier and which will allow them to score higher with less effort.

The fear of failure and the educational system may have made us hate mathematics, but the truth is it is highly important for our development. It helps us to develop critical thinking, improves creativity and problem solving, and leads to a better organized.

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