Mathematics is the building blocks of the very world we inhabit. Few subjects have such wide-ranging applications; few disciplines foster such intrigue and curiosity. But whilst it's true that maths governs so much of the material and conceptual worlds, and has perhaps more than anything else, accelerated technological progress, its importance to our daily lives is so often disputed or taken for granted.
In English schools, maths is like marmite; students love it or they hate it and there's very little in between. Even in adulthood, the subject remains divisive with many (wrongly) buying into the belief that we either have a maths brain or we don't, that being bad at maths is almost a badge of honour and that the subject has little value beyond passing exams and securing safe passage to the next stage. The truth however, is quite the contrary on all counts: anyone can master maths and the reward for doing so is not only a proven advantage in the labour market and higher average pay over the course of your career, but perhaps most importantly - a greater appreciation of the world around us.
Besides the simple functions of telling the time, reading the bus timetable and ensuring that you haven’t been short changed in the corner shop, a functional understanding of mathematics provides a wealth of advantages well beyond the scope of a single blog post. Nonetheless, I will attempt in this piece, to outline the key benefits that a maths education provides, and the subsequent doors that even a simple understanding of the subject might open.
The ability to recognise, deconstruct, analyse and draw conclusions is a fundamental set of skills that allows us to judge veracity and make sound decisions across many areas of our lives. Maths helps us to develop these skills by presenting opportunities to spot patterns, interpret data and apply logic, to break complex problems into small, digestible chunks and to progress methodically towards a satisfying solution. In short, maths promotes thinking - deep thinking, critical thinking, creative thinking … and the power of thought - of making and understanding connections between ideas - is invariably the spark that lights the fire.
A creative discipline wrongly portrayed as unimaginative and monotonous, maths provides a wealth of opportunities to investigate, observe, generalise and attempt to explain. But fostering mathematical curiosity from its very foundations is a key challenge for primary school teachers. Children are by their very nature inquisitive, but maintaining their interest and harnessing that desire to ask “why?” can be difficult in a climate where maths is so often viewed as something to fear. Blind acceptance is rarely the fuel of progress; an open mind and the ability to question the findings of yourself and others, very often is. Curious people have open and active minds; they can see opportunities where others might not even have looked and are able to adapt in a constantly evolving world.
It's a lucky person who is able to skip through life without worry or obstacle. For most of us, life presents a series of hurdles to be straddled, storm seas to be navigated, problems to be solved. And hence, ‘problem solving’ - that on-trend, catch all phrase that refers to our ability to apply logic and creativity to overcome difficulties, is an essential ingredient of both personal and professional success. Mathematical problem solving develops skills in communication, observation, reasoning and reflective practice - all of which are transferable to a wide range of other contexts.
Money matters. And understanding your finances is instrumental in leading a successful - and stress-free - life. Whether that means ascertaining best buys in a super market, figuring out repayments on a loan or filling in a tax return, functional numeracy is an absolute necessity in a world increasingly plagued with security breaches, rip off schemes and scams. A grounding in maths provides the tools to handle your personal finances with confidence.
“When am I ever going to use this in real life?” is the common call of the reluctant maths student, but the truth is that almost every job involves some degree of mathematics, and the skills learned by studying maths - particularly maths beyond the compulsory high school education - opens up a wealth of opportunities in a diverse range of fields. Beyond the obvious roles in teaching, computer science, economics, stockbroking and statistics, a sound grasp of maths is integral to engineering, air traffic control, medicine, architecture, animation and so much more. Traditional building trades use simple arithmetic operations to calculate quantities, electricians use trigonometry to find optimal angles, bakers use ratio to ensure perfect proportions. Even artists and physical performers such as dancers, use elements of maths in their compositions, and the connection between maths and music is well documented. Evidently, a sound understanding of maths places securely, the first stones on any number of career paths.
Mathematics enables us to describe the Universe and our place within it. Almost everything we see around us - whether natural or manmade - is governed by the rules of mathematics. From the Fibonacci spiral of seashells and hurricanes, the hexagonal structure of beehives and the prevalence of fractals in nature, to the incredible symmetry of the Taj Mahal, the applications of calculus in the Golden Gate Bridge and the binary code of the digital world. Without maths, the development of civilisation would stall, the technology we take for granted would never have been imagined and the world as we know it would cease to exist. Understanding maths opens our eyes to the wonders that surround us, affording us a greater appreciation of our world and a better connection with its components. How many other subjects can stake that claim?
Brainy Cow is an online quizzing platform designed by and for people who love quizzing.