This seems a little odd

They claim the \”Use of Mathematics\” qualification, which shows students how to solve realistic problems, lacks academic rigour.

It is designed to give teenagers a grounding in the use of maths in everyday situations. Trial exam papers include questions on issues such as population growth, road distances, income, the weight of babies and even seed germination.

Someone, somewhere, seems to have missed the point that past a certain level maths isn\’t about cranking through problems. It\’s about how to construct the problems.

Perhaps I\’m just touchy on the point as that\’s exactly where I started to go awry in the subject. Back in the day I could solve quadratics, integrate, crank through any number of statistical thingies to get mean, median, standard deviation etc. But there does become a stage when they ask you to compose the equations that you\’ve then got to solve. And that simply left me baffled.

I\’m not sure if there\’s a point like that in every subject, a blocking point, a step change. And you\’ve either got it or you ain\’t. But if there is, sounds reasonably sensible that you find out whether you have or not before you go to uni, doesn\’t it?

12 thoughts on “This seems a little odd”

  1. A-level examinations need to be set by the universities. They have an incentive to weed out the weak students whereas the schools/Ofsted would like to give prizes to all.

  2. The qualification makes sense, as long as it’s not used as a criterion for admission to *maths* courses.

    For courses like economics and chemistry, where an understanding of how to do moderately hard maths is required but a conceptual understanding of maths works isn’t, it’d be about right (indeed, my economics course included an optional module on ‘maths for economics’ for people who hadn’t done A-level maths, which seemed to be exactly the kind of ‘this is how you do it, don’t worry too much about why’ described in the article).

    Physics and engineering at a proper university probably require real maths, although I imagine the noddy course should be fine for mechanical engineering at the University of Lunn.

  3. I can’t see what could possibly be wrong with media luvvies turned politicians deciding how maths, science and engineering should be taught.

  4. I’m with John on this one. For people intending to read maths, engineering, physics, whatever at university, the old maths qualification should remain. For the rest a “Use of Maths” qualification might actually be more useful.

    Hell! It might even produce a population of school leavers a little better equipped to spot some of the bollox science and statistics so-called experts like to throw around. A lot of people are currently put off studying maths of any kind because of the daunting appearance of the A-level maths syllabus.

    Well, that’s the theory anyway. Of course, if the establishment hijacks a good idea simply to gyppo the numbers of passing “maths”, that’s something different altogether. As would the apparat trying to force universities to accept the lower quality qualification in lieu of a proper one, but I see no signs of either. At the moment.

  5. A prediction:

    “Use of Maths” A level will replace the standard A level at bog standard comprehensives and taught by teachers that have to use their finders to count. Private schools will increase their domination of the top universities.

  6. Yep, Kit. That’s an Iron Law. It’s like ‘targets’. As soon as you introduce a target, then fulfilling that target is all that matters. If a dumbed-down qualification allows a box to be ticked then it will be chosen preferentially over the harder one.

    Of course A-level maths is to real maths what counting on your fingers is to A-level. Real maths exams ask things like: prove that an abelian subgroup of a ring R is a left ideal if and only if the subgroup is a left submodule of R. I definitely reach the pons asinorum when it comes to category theory (it’s more like murus asinorum, actually).

  7. At my college, people taking AS maths were given a test at the start of the year, and those passing it did AS Maths, and those who failed did Use Of Maths.

    Then they were given a terrible temp teacher and made to feel they were doing ‘useless maths’. Needless to say they all pissed around then failed.

  8. Anybody who is good at maths would piss mechanical engineering, if you’re not good at maths you’re going to struggle. I was very mediocre at maths but good at physics, so I managed to drag myself through engineering. But if anybody thinks they can do a watered down maths course and then go onto engineering, they’ll fall at the first hurdle.

  9. I’m with Tim M.

    My first year exams had two pure maths papers out of 6. You simply cannot do anything more than very basic A level physics without being really very adept at applied maths.

    In particular, Engineering is all about looking at a physical system and turning into maths so that you can model it – that is Tim (W)’s “formulating the equations” step writ large.

  10. “Use of Maths” is not, for example, going to get you to a point where you can formulate a set of partial differential equations – even first order – let alone solve them.

    So that rules out fluid dynamics, anything to do with aeronautics, a healthy chunk of thermodynamics, most of semiconductor electronics etc etc etc.

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