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Rishi Sunak: Should Maths Be Mandatory?

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently divided the nation with his claim that Maths should be mandatory for all students until the age of 18. Whilst this hasn’t yet been implemented, his pledge to “reimagine our approach to numeracy” is very much in the pipeline. But why was this such a cause for controversy?

Mandatory Maths: The Facts

Many were shocked by the seemingly radical nature of his statement; however, the role of Mathematics in education has been questioned by ministers for several years, and Sunak is certainly not the first to suggest that the subject remain compulsory past the age of 16. When making his first speech as Prime Minister, Sunak backed up his pledge as follows:

"Right now, just half of all 16-year-olds study any Maths at all. Yet in a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, our children's jobs will require more analytical skills than ever before." This lack of post-GCSE mathematical priority naturally continues into adulthood; half the adults in the UK allegedly have a primary level knowledge of numeracy – which is costing the UK approximately £20 billion a year. Despite the reasoning behind Sunak’s grand plans, there has still been a public backlash. Some argue that the UK doesn’t currently have the resources for his pledge to be possible, and that the education system is already suffering a shortage of Maths teachers, as sadly, many teachers leave the profession after a certain number of years. What’s more, amidst the current strikes, many are baffled as to how Sunak intends to fund this pledge of his.

Left-Brainers vs. Right-Brainers

Many members of the British public disputed Sunak's pledge for the aforementioned practical reasons – but also for more personal reasons. Frankly, people value their autonomy, and some feel that making a ‘marmite’ subject mandatory negates their freedom of choice. Historically, A Levels are an exciting time where students hone their focus onto subjects that they perform well in, and are passionate about.

Have you heard of brain lateralisation? This psychological concept describes the differentiation between the right and left sides of the brain, both of which ‘look after’ different types of sensory information. The left side processes analytical and rational thought, for example, whilst the right side takes charge of your intuition and imagination. People tend to be either more ‘left-brained’ or ‘right-brained’, depending on which side is dominant. For example, left-brainers are the methodical thinkers, whereas most creatives have a dominant right side.

One of the most beautiful things about humanity is the fact that we are all unique. Let’s face it, if all of our brains were identically lateralised, life would be boring! It is unsurprising that there are many right-brainers who thrive in the world of literature and the arts, and can't wait to be rid of Maths when they reach A Level! Therefore, imagine their dismay when Rishi dropped the bombshell that they could be assaulted by Algebra until they leave school! There has also been some controversy about the government’s dismissal of arts subjects, providing further fuel to the fire.

Whilst the Prime Minister made it clear that he did not intend for Maths A Level to be mandatory – rather, an additional class – this still ensures that all students would continue the “love-it-or-hate-it” subject throughout sixth form. Many argue: isn’t GCSE Maths enough?

Current Gaps in the Syllabus

Furthermore, whilst some agree with Rishi Sunak’s statement about the critical necessity of analytical skills, there has been long-term criticism of arguably more crucial skills which aren’t included in any syllabus. In a nutshell, these are the skills which will help children smoothly transition into the adult world.

Countless students have queried the relevance of certain elements of the current Maths syllabus, in comparison to the significant gaps in their knowledge that come to light as they move out of their family home. For example, will having expertise on Surds help them to understand taxes? Or, will Pythagoras’ Theorem solve their budgeting issues? Now, no one is claiming that ‘adulting’ lessons should take precedence over the current Maths syllabus. However, some are arguing that we should focus on filling the current gaps, before ambitiously extending a core subject.

But who knows! Perhaps Rishi Sunak’s plan all along was to incorporate a ‘Student Loan’ module into his additional, mandatory Maths! Only time will tell. In the meantime, stay tuned for more updates on the Titanium Tutors blog.

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