Lately I have been called upon to help with Maths and numeracy skills at various levels - for GCSE students some of who are in the process of repeating their Maths papers and for mature adults who are training to be nurses, machinists, engineers and others who use Maths as part of their day-to-day jobs. Their Maths standards or rather the lack of them that I am confronted with is shocking.
Fast forward to a scenario without a strong foundation in Maths - No I am not referring to the careers of an Animator, a special effects Director, a Computer Scientist, a Forensic Scientist or such like - I am talking about basic common-place jobs that are sought after by the vast majority of us - nursing, plumbing, gas engineers, electricals, DIY, tailoring - you name it.
Nurses who are unable to calculate dosage levels or fluid retention levels, trainee plumbers and engineers who are unable to handle conversions and measurements - these are professionals I would need to trust with my life in some cases - and knowing what I now do about their lack of Maths skills would make me very cautious.
Similar glimpses of Maths despair can be seen in GCSE students. How have they been allowed to progress through 5 years of Maths education without being picked out as needing additional support? Why are the most fundamental of Maths concepts such a challenge that drives them to fear, tears or loathing at the very thought of solving a Maths problem?
The issues therein are endemic and certainly difficult to fix in a short time. A lack of basic understanding of fundamentals, inability to apply logical and tangential thinking across problems, a diffident attitude towards extrapolation and application and an inability to comprehend the application of Maths to life problems is at the root of it all. I believe that the subject has been taught without imagination, without breadth of explanation and with almost an apologetic approach to pushing beyond comfort zones.
Statistics thrown up by the latest study conducted by the Royal School of Arts is alarming - one in four adults in England cannot do basic calculations. England's Maths education is not fit for purpose and risks damaging the economy. Nearly half of our students fail to achieve GCSE grade C and above ! ... and much more.
Not surprisingly the answer must lie not just in the teaching methods but also in the teacher. While it is important to seek common-sense solutions - such as to arrange additional classes to fix the Maths standards of students who are falling behind or to pick up and address the lack of understanding or interest as they crop up, there is a much more intense journey to be undertaken.
The word 'pedagogy' as teachers understand it should not just be about teaching - rather it needs to be about an educational journey, an inter-relationship between the teacher and the taught leading to a resolve that enables individuals to pursue worthwhile lives. Perhaps this will then give teachers more freedom to call on and apply means and resources to teach Maths skills beyond 'test/exam' standards.
But do teachers have the time and the means to implement this? Do they have the freedom to teach Maths skills beyond 'test standards'? Are there sufficient pay incentives? Well these though are a subject of another discussion.......
Are you a teacher, an educator or are you interested in education? Your views and comments would be most welcome......
Consider these headline screamers - Unemployment levels risen from 8.3% to 8.4%! Youth unemployment hits an all time high! Over 2.7 million people unemployed in the UK' and so on.
And yet some of UK's largest employers state that they are unable to employ people with appropriate skills in the UK and almost always have to resort to foreign universities for example to seek out appropriate talent.
According to Keith Anderson, Corporate Officer from Scottish Power, there is a massive dearth of skills and qualified people in the energy sector, with the result that they have to resort of employing skills from abroad! Miles Bollough of Aardman Animation says that the standard of a graduate is declining very sharply and that they also have to resort often to French and German universities to employ their skills.
I have seen people struggle to complete questions on the on-line assessment tests that energy companies expects all new applicants to complete. These are usually timed questions that require a basic understanding of mathematical principles, unit conversions, applications of fundamentals and an ability to work things out mentally. The questions should be easily tackled by candidate with average GCSE credits, but most feel threatened by these tests and fail them.
The problem I believe stems from schools who for some reason are diffident about pushing their students to think faster and harder. For example, times tables, which ought to be stored in the memory by about Year 4, are still worked out by counting on their fingers well into Year 6. I have seen students use methods for basic arithmetic calculations that do nothing to wean them away from their dependence on working into the realm of mental calculations. With the result that by the time many are still struggling with their basics when they get to secondary education and rapidly fall off the Maths spectrum as their years progress.
In Universities on the other hand, there is a massive push for recruitment. However students are being programmed for academic qualifications rather than employability.
I believe that the following would help make students from the UK more employable:
1 Introduce a Maths Club as an after-school activity which enables children to participate in fun games and activities that reinforce the essence of essential/simple mental arithmetic
2 Have lecturers in schools experience a day at work in a relevant work sector that applies their subject of interest in a work environment.
3 For adult learners, introduce sector based learning that aims to examine the expectations of the sector and address barriers to accessing the sector on an individual basis. The involvement of employers in this aspect is very important as also of retired skilled professionals in the sector.
4 Grass root organisations and Work Clubs can play a massive role in addressing this mismatch between jobs and skills by bringing together opportunities and resources in a community environment. Organisations must consider investing in such grass-root ventures that will enable mismatch fixes for those who have fallen off the spectrum.
What do you think needs to be done to address this mismatch? Your comments are welcome.