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Education | Time for change?

Sunday around Walsall 084

How many ducks?

How many ducks are there in  the picture? The answer is, if you look carefully is none; maybe. They are in fact swans and geese; but how about the one out to the left? Is that a duck? Life can be confusing and things aren’t always clear. But do we have to make them more confusing and be deliberately unclear? I was helping someone with maths questions yesterday and became increasing frustrated with some questions. It wasn’t that the maths was hard it was that the questions were unclear. I often had the same problem at school and after 3 hours in a stuffy exam room; I would begin to lose the will to live…

I was educated in the days of pounds, shillings and pence of course when life was more confusing. In the UK we now have 100 pence to the pound and 1000 grams to a kilogram. In those days it was 12 pence to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound. There were stupid people who priced things at one pound, nineteen shillings and sixpence of course. I assume it’s their grandchildren who now price things at £1.99,just to be confusing. It makes adding up your bill as you go along in the supermarket, frustrating. In those days people went in to the sweet shop in the High Street and asked for ‘a quarter of’ meaning a quarter of a pound of their favourite sweets. Now of course everything is is grams and people still go into the sweet shop on the High Street and still say ‘a quarter of’. The lady then gives them 100 grams and a look that says, ‘I’m used to it’.

I admit to struggling with a question involving maths when I was helping university students because I wasn’t familiar to the use of mathematics for statistical analysis. One question I was asked about yesterday was really simple algebra, the sort of thing I was doing when I was 12 years old. It made me ask myself how good the High School teacher was, who was teaching it or was it the fault of the idiot who set the exam questions?

I also got to thinking about maths when I was out shopping with someone half my age. I had to spend some time explaining percentages because we had a voucher for 20% off. The items cost £9, £6, and £19 and there was 20% off; how much did I have to pay? I did that little bit of mental arithmetic without too much trouble. I wish I could say the same for most young people with a Comprehensive education.

I’ve just started a new website A Zillion Ideas. OK, it wasn’t that easy to set it up and I still haven’t finished installing plugins; but I’ve made progress. The much younger chief executive of my local council gets paid over £100,000 a year and had to ask someone else to set his up for him at a cost of £5,000! What does he do all day? He sits behind a desk and attends meetings and when something goes wrong he blames the politicians.

If we are to revitalise Western economies I think we need clarity in education and less politically correct lessons. Teach kids how computers work not ‘media studies’; whatever they are. Stop worshiping artists that throw paint at canvas and  try to produce something people want to hang on walls; dare I say even buy to hang on their walls. Teach maths that is really useful like that used in everyday life and business; then teach applied mathematics to the kids that excel at it.

Another question for those of you who figured out 20% off £34. How many farthings were there in a guinea?

I read an article about an alternative income tax system by a financial journalist who used to be a maths teacher this week. It didn’t help his argument that he got the maths wrong!

Another question. You buy a government bond for £100 and the coupon is 6%. Interest rates are cut to 5% and the price of the bonds go up to £120. What is the return now? The return would be the same if you kept the bond, the 6% on the nominal cost of £100. If you sold the bond you would make a 20% return plus any interest you had received. That would be a good return and because interest rates have been dropping to a historic low, gilts have given great returns. But if you buy a bond at £120 and interest rates go up from 5% to 10% the price of that bond is likely to half on the bond markets. The numbers may be hypothetical but in Victorian times these were the sort of questions kids would be asked so they understood how to calculate returns quickly. I read an article this week about gilts being a good investment at a time when interest rates are at an all time low.

In conclusion I think we need common sense, clarity and practicality in our education not fashion. Forget Comprehensive, Academies, Colleges of technology and sport; let’s just have schools that work. 

There are more amazing blogs on the Home Page. Please comment, in an educated way!

I nearly forgot, there were 1,008 farthings to a guinea.



4 responses

  1. Bother, should have read to the end. I worked out the farthings (without a calculator)!

    I remember long columns of pounds, shillings and pence.

    Don’t think too much, Mike. I have a feeling it will soon become illegal

    (Like your no ducks picture, by the way)

    12, February 2012 at 1:57 pm

    • Hi Myfanwy,

      I have helped students in 3 different countries recently and it’s obvious why the Chinese are doing better than their Western counterparts!

      12, February 2012 at 2:14 pm

  2. Some great observations here. Could we put it like this: education today seeks to get the student to give a required answer rather than enabling the student to answer any question?

    13, February 2012 at 9:20 am

    • Hi Ayd,

      That is true. I help students in China but the questions are set in England. The hypothetical question or hypothetical company is difficult for them. I explain and they say, “If this company doesn’t exist, how can be research it?” The telecoms company in one question on their business course was called Aslan and based in Narnia! They like sensible and practical questions.

      13, February 2012 at 9:32 am

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