Rishi Rich’s New Maths Problem

Of course, Rishi Sunak’s original maths problem was how to hide God knows how many millions of pounds from the UK tax authorities. Rishi’s new maths problem is convincing anyone that his idea for school kids to study “maths” until they’re eighteen isn’t monumentally stupid.

On the other hand, if anyone commenting on Sunak’s latest idiocy wrote anything remotely intelligent, we failed to see it. (But thank God for Michael Spicer.)

16 Replies to “Rishi Rich’s New Maths Problem”

      1. I would repeat what I said: “The idea isn’t bad at all” and if you want to have discussion on the topic without political reflexes I am happy to explain why.

        1. Thanks, Dr. M. .

          I’m happy for to explain why. I’ll admit I was being reflexive, but the reflex had nothing to do with my general distaste for Sunak or his politics.

          1. Thanks for your reply Marty; greatly appreciated. Here is my tuppence from my personal experience and observations. To a substantial extent, success in learning mathematics comes from attitude to the topic and attention span. Both quite often come with maturity. More than once, I have seen kids aged 14-15 who realised that math is fun, but they couldn’t catch up because it is sometimes too late. Providing another opportunity to kids at later stages of their life might be a crucial last-chance opportunity for many of them. There is a saying: ‘Good student is like a triangle with a sharp angle at the top and obtuse at the bottom’, and that ‘obtuse angle at the bottom’ that helps with sitting down and grinding through quite often comes only with age.

    1. Hi Dr. M,

      Thanks again for your comment, and sorry to be slow to respond.

      To begin, I have to admit, my first response to you was thoughtlessly dismissive. On reflection, and having read your comment and the statement from the Royal Society, I have changed my opinion: Sunak’s/RS’s idea is not bad; it is very bad.

      Seriously, I cannot see why you would support their proposals. I agree, mostly, with your premises. But, even though you and I appear to share a decent amount of common ground, I cannot remotely get to the kind of nonsense now being proposed. Here, in detail, is why.

      1. It does not impress me that the proposal comes from the Royal Society. I am not intrinsically against appeals to authority: we all need shorthand ways to filter information. However, here in Australian, the Australian Academy of Sciences has demonstrated that they are an active force of idiocy when it comes to mathematics education. I can easily imagine the Royal Society screwing up in a similar manner, and for similar reasons.

      2. I strongly agree with you, that proper attention and attitude is key to a student’s proper learning of mathematics. However, and leaving aside for now the possibility of and nurturing of late bloomers, attention and attitude must also be taught, and generally must be taught early.

      This is for me the critical point. The ability and willingness to sit still and pay attention, to maths or anything, is not natural. It must be taught early, and it is not. Trying to fix maths education, or any education, by reforming late teen practice is horse-boltingly silly.

      3. Yes, there are students/adults who realise late that the study of mathematics is rewarding, and that study per se is rewarding. Yes, these students/adult should be catered to. But they are not the guide to structuring education, except in as much as we admit, “Yes, we stuffed up everyone’s primary education, so let’s give it another shot”.

      4. You write about kids realising maths can be fun. Yeah, sure. But without wanting to sound too Dickensian, “fun” is not the point. Much better is a focus upon “meaningful” and “rewarding”. Any serious appreciation of mathematics requires proper study and sweat. The selling of education as entertainment is a fundamental error.

      5. Even if “fun” is the goal, attempting to achieve this goal by mandating late teen classes is not going to do it. As other commenters have suggested, these other-student subjects are invariably clunky, and are invariably infused with a misguided spirit of utilitarianism and real-worldism.

      6. Nothing in the Royal Society’s proposal suggests anything remotely useful or remotely fun. The repetition of “broad and balanced” only suggest to me “thin and meaningless”. The repetition of “practical” and of “problem solving” suggests only to me real-world tripe, of a kind all too familiar to us Australians. Nothing suggests to me any proper appreciation of mathematics, or what it might take for students to gain such an appreciation.

      7. I don’t know what 7 is, but I’ll think of it.

      1. Marty’s point on “The ability and willingness to sit still and pay attention, to maths or anything, is not natural” reminds me of a problem that I have often put to students: How many hours have you spent at school? Their reactions were interesting. Here was a conversation across the class (during which I said nothing).

        Well, today I came to school at 8.30am so that would be about 5 hours.

        He means forever.

        Forever? How could I possibly work that out?

        You have so many school hours in a day, some many school days in the week, so many school weeks in the year, and so many years since prep. It’s easy.

        But I have missed some days when I was sick. I don’t remember how many.

        He only wants an approximate answer.

      2. I believe that our differences lie within the area of implementation. I also agree the word ‘fun’ wasn’t the most suitable, and probably ‘rewarding’ would have sounded better. I can see that you are a person who has seen quite a lot of bureaucrats destroying the best of ideas. Indeed some people believe they can apply methods without paying attention to the context. They are looking for some ‘educational brute force’, which will suppress all the nuances and would be suitable for, say, 90% of the audience. It is an eternal struggle between a ‘broad’ generic approach by bureaucrats and a more nuanced and narrower approach from mathematicians. However, so far, none have produced anything. Probably we need to reevaluate what mathematics is and what we are trying to teach. That might shift the focus from many unachievable targets.

  1. A couple of years ago, when the Victorian government was considering to do something about numeracy in Victoria, I suggested a simple approach: make mathematics compulsory at VCE. (This was when we had three VCE mathematics subjects.) My thinking at the time was that there would be a trickle down effect through the school system. In its wisdom, the government decided to introduce a fourth VCE mathematics subject (Foundation Mathematics).

    Now I am not so sure that compulsion works, for two reasons. First, I have largely lost my faith in cause and effect. Second, even if I still had faith in cause and effect, I don’t know how I would evaluate a policy on making mathematics compulsory for all students up to 18. Quite often governments introduce policies without giving any thought to their evaluation – and they are almost never asked about this.

    1. Is there a third reason (which you hinted at in your opening remark about there now being FOUR Unit 3&4 Mathematics subjects): make it compulsory and you (ACARA in this case) need to lower the bar sufficiently to make sure everyone can pass.

      This then enables a not-insignificant-number of students who would otherwise have chosen General Mathematics to now choose Foundation Mathematics because they think it will be easier.

      It is not difficult to see how this will evolve. The only question is “how quickly”?

  2. A comic commentator said “Studying maths until you are 18 is a ridiculous idea. That’s like 400 years.”

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