Yet another survey - this time by the University of Granada - suggesting that symptoms such as nervousness, worry, edginess, tension and mental block are displayed by "most" university under-graduates when asked to do something mathematical. It seems that just under half of men and just over half of women showed these symptoms (don't think that you can call that "most" - but let's not go down that route). But in essence I think the subject is quite interesting.
There was a time, long ago, when mathematics was thought of as an art, when subjects like Geometry and Algebra were studied by fine arts students. Now I suppose we would consider maths to be a kind of science - and that may be to its disadvantage.
When I was a teacher I was always concerned about the standard of maths teaching in Primary schools - where, let's face it - the ground work is done and the pattern set for future learning. The "good" teacher, with a good maths background, would devise problems for children so that they learned the basic principles of maths. A teacher without that maths background would often concentrate on "sums". In my view children either can or can't add, subtract, multiply or divide - if they can then they have learned the technique and can now concentrate on applying it. If they can't then they need to be taught to do so - but not day after day, not being marked, say, six out of ten, and leaving it at that. Problem solving is far more important.
I have lost count of the number of times I have come across less able pupils with little or no skill in mathematics who, after leaving school have ended up on the till in a supermarket. Alright this is computer skill rather than maths skill but it used to give me such pleasure to see them rattling away on the keys in such an expert way.
Something goes wrong with a lot of young people so that suddenly they feel they can't do maths.
A reader of my blog, who shall be nameless, (you know who you are) has a real hang-up about maths. She was asked which was greater - a third or a quarter - immediately her brain seized up and she couldn't work it out. But she is a lover of cake and when I phrased the question -
"Would you rather have a third or a cake or a quarter of a cake?" she could do it immediately.
Mind you other subjects have also taken a battering in the modern curriculum. Some time ago I had cause to get my bank to query an item on my credit card statement. The young man took me into his office and rang through to query the payment, saying that the company who had charged it were in Loughborough - but he pronounced it louborough (ou as in ouch).
After the call I questioned him on it and asked it he knew where Loughborough was - and he said he thought it was a seaside place! (for my US readers - it is in the middle of the country).
He said he had dropped Geography after the first year in Secondary School but it didn't matter anyway because he had satnav.
Does it matter? Is it important that all students feel comfortable with mathematics? or Geography? or any other subject for that matter. University students have exhibited their level of intelligence by getting to University in the first place. So what has gone wrong that there are so many gaps in their learning? And can sat nav take the place of knowing where A,B and C are? Only last week in the paper there was a story of a man who followed the instructions on his sat nav even to the extent of driving down a steep bank and wrecking his car.
Answers on my blog, rather than on a postcard, please.