Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Lost Labour Generation?


Today I started my day by buying breakfast and a latte in local coffee shop. A pleasant young lad served me and said “£6.50 please”. I handed over £10 and then gave him another 50p. The extra change made him look nervous, and he called over to the girl making the drinks. He said, “So, how much change do I give?” The reply “£4” was spoken in a Polish accent. Has anyone else experienced a similar situation recently?

This simple but telling interaction is on the same day as Sir Peter Williams, (chair of the ‘Government’s Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education’) expressed concerns over how poorly equipped primary schools are to teach maths. He raised concerns that a quarter of eleven year olds are failing to meet the expected standards of numeracy. He highlighted the importance of combating the “can’t do” attitude to mathematics that appeared to be unique to Britain.
I concluded this morning that Poland must have a “can do” mathematics attitude and wondered if we need to open the doors of his proposed ‘summer mathematics courses’ to all the children who were educated during the last ten years of Labour administration. Their slogan ‘education, education, education’ seems to be over ten years behind schedule.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

As ever you make a good point Michelle. It begs the question - What did the chap spend his eleven years of stste-funded education learning?

Anonymous said...

Judging by the comment above, I clearly didn't spend my time at school learning to type....

Reluctant Blogger said...

I am a mathematician (bit of a lapsed one these days) but it was the subject of my first degree and I have taught maths at University level.

It is a bit of a chicken and egg situation in this country. Maths has, for many years, been perceived as "uncool" and difficult and so people, particularly girls, are put off studying it. So there are few people available to train as maths teachers, so pupils get bad or unenthusiastic maths teachers and another generation is put off the subject. The good teachers tend to drop out because pupils are unenthusiastic about the subject and play up in class.

Maths needs an image revamp. My sons are (inevitably I suppose) rather good at maths and I am hoping they will not be put off excelling at it by the opinions of others.

Dr Michelle Tempest said...

Thanks reluctant blogger. I agree we need to get good maths teachers and then be able to retain them. You've obviously inspired your boys into maths and perhaps they should be encouraged to be role models and change the 'uncool' image.
Michelle

ceeque said...

I see this all the time, virtually everyday! I see women in Tesco, who when given the correct amount of money for a group of items are often unable to ascertain how much I have just given them! Frankly, it is a completely common experience nowadays and strangely puzzing as they also seem unable to decide what to key into their systems as the "amount tendered"......

Peter Smallbone said...

Maybe a better mantra would be 'calculation, calculation, calculation'?

Ellee Seymour said...

I bought three items at a pharmacy which cost £1.99 each and the till would only work manually which really threw the assistant and her two colleagues. None of them could work it out in their heads and even after I told the, they refused to believe me until checking it out with their boss.

hettie said...

"I concluded this morning that Poland must have a “can do” mathematics attitude..."

Although I'm not Polish but Hungarian I think it's not so much a 'can do' but rather a 'have to do' attutude. I mean if one wants to get ahead in life they have to tackle the difficult subjects, too. Children can understand that and enjoy the challenge.

simon said...

sort of- I was in Aberdeen and ordered a chicken roll. The guy who served me could have passed as my brother- trouble was he could not understand my Australian accent and nor could he work out the change.

It took a gentlemen of Indian background to "translate" and give me my money.....ahah

Anonymous said...

Can't quite see how you can expand one small incident into an indictment of education policy. It doesn't make sense. Still, you look hot. So I'll let you off.

Dr Michelle Tempest said...

Thanks for all the comments. In a global economy our children need to be able to compete with the standards of glocal education. I suspect the UK could learn alot from Sweden.

Anonymous said...

If the UK would start to think a bit more flexible ( is that possible?) about teaching it could already change a lot. It doesn't make any sense to put children through the system, who fail a certain minimum level. And it might also make grade skipping for the very gifted a bit easier.

Anonymous said...

For such an educated individual, reading this blog made one feel that you possess a certain degree of ignorance on the topic matter!

To try and analyse the whole state of the British educational system from one incident you experienced in a café is just bizarre.