Why Study Mathematics?

Making the most feared teacher question redundant

Parents up and down the country will be very familiar with a variety of adolescent complaints and grumbles, but they may not be aware of the one that gets repeated thousands of times a day across our schools.  It’s one that teachers dread, and even devise their own professional answers to, although those answers are not always quite as sincere as they appear! So, what is this fearsome question you ask? Well it’s the teenage call of:

‘When am I ever going to need to know this?’

This can be heard in classrooms in schools every minute of every day, no matter where, however there is one subject which receives more than its fair share of challenges.  Can you guess ….? That’s right, it’s maths. Step inside the vast majority of maths classes and more often than not you’ll hear at least one student ask this question, to either their peers or their teacher directly.  This is usually followed quite swiftly by a well-rehearsed explanation extolling the virtues of everyday applications of mathematics in work or life from the teacher.

Young people crave relevance.  They need to know how things work, why they are needed and ultimately what use they are to them.  Clearly, maths is a crucially important subject area, but if young people cannot see the relevance of what they are learning there are challenges to their engagement and understanding.  There have been significant strides forward made in the delivery of maths within our schools, attempting to develop relevance and context for young people, however, for many young people the challenge remains – ‘when am I ever going to need to know this?’.

Young Enterprise is a national charity which provides programmes in schools with a focus on enterprise, employability and financial capability.  These programmes, to varying extent, include discrete elements of maths, and in some cases this can be quite complex maths. Young people involved in the programmes often approach the maths very differently to their classroom practice – it’s used as a solution to a practical problem that needs resolving before they can progress further, or to make what they are doing more efficient or effective.  It has a purpose for them.

A great example of this is the comparison of two mobile phone tariffs with different allowances.  Through one of our activities, we ask young people to work out which tariff would be better for a range of different users.  This is approached with relish. Young people know and understand mobile tariffs, the context is entirely relevant to them, and it is a practical skill they can use in the future.  What they may not immediately realise is that they have begun the process of tackling simultaneous equations.

Maths is not the sole, or even primary, focus of the programmes Young Enterprise delivers, but for over 50 years we have wholeheartedly supported the mantra of ‘learning by doing’.  Giving classroom learning practicality and relevance for young people is key to what we do, whether those skills are developed in maths, English or any other subject area. Through their participation in Young Enterprise programmes we aim to not only develop enterprise, employability and financial skills, but to also support young people to apply classroom learning in a practical way, appreciate the various ways in which classroom learning will support their future life and work, and ultimately change young people’s attitudes towards learning so the ‘when am I ever going to need to know this?’ question becomes a distant memory for teachers.

Young people can do amazing things! 

Having a good foundation in maths can lead to exciting careers like a Nano Technologist!

We’re proud to be partners with Young Enterprise. You can find out more about them here:

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