What’s the point of learning maths? For some it reveals the beauty of underlying patterns in the world. But for most of us the point of maths is to help deal with real-life problems – something maths teaching today signally fails to do. You bone up on trigonometry yet seldom encounter it again once you’ve left school. You can get a top grade and still end up financially illiterate. Indeed, it turns out that almost half of UK working-age adults have the numeracy skills of a primary school child. A teacher is meant to prepare young people to be responsible citizens, but if they don’t learn the basics of compound interest, how can they make informed decisions about, say, renting or buying a flat?
That’s why Bobby Seagull, writing in the Financial Times, advocates ridding ourselves of the “If Alice has three times as many sweets as Billy…” variety of sums and start asking pupils to compare the merits of bank accounts mortgages etc. Only then will they be able to acquire the “survival skills” needed for adult life. (edited version of an article by Bobby Seagull, Financial Times).
I would add: mental arithmetic. One should be able to do simple adding, subtracting and multiplication in your head. You are being charged 8 pounds for 13 gizmos. Mentally check that the supplier is charging you correctly. Right answer 104. Of course, you can use a calculator or a cellphone, but doing it in your head, and quickly, even approximately, saves time and is an essential skill, an aid to peace of mind.