Back in 1982 the British Government formed a Committee of Inquiry into the Teaching of Mathematics in Schools under the Chairmanship of Dr WH Cockcroft, a study entitled Mathematics Counts; and became known as The Cockcroft Report. Despite years of effort to improve the overall mathematical literacy of the general population, the standard reached was still wanting. It is interesting to note that this subject is still a subject of controversy as it was then – to quote from the report:
Few subjects in the school curriculum are as important to the future of the nation as mathematics; and few have been the subject of more comment and criticism in recent years. This report tackles that criticism head on. It offers constructive and original proposals for change. It should be read by those responsible for school mathematics at all levels.
The study delved into why we teach Mathematics, what is needed for employment and adult life and skills necessary for research and development.
As I had begun to teach Mathematics two years earlier, I read the report to see what the major findings were. From a perspective of nearly forty years on, the recommendations have largely been implemented; that is to provide a differentiated curriculum to ensure that the taught material meets students’ needs to accommodate differing rates of learning and attainment levels at any given age. The findings also clearly stated that the quality of mathematics teaching was unlikely to improve unless the subject was taught by qualified teachers.
However, the other major finding was that computational skills (+, -, x, ÷, etc.) must be related to practical situations and applied to problem solving; that is, experiential learning is a more powerful learning tool than just learning the theory. To quote again form the report:
Mathematics teaching for pupils of all ages should include exposition, discussion, appropriate practical work, problem solving, investigation, consolidation and practice, as well as mental and oral work. Assessment should be both diagnostic and supportive.
Whilst at AISB we certainly make every effort to provide a differentiated curriculum and find the best teachers from around the world, over the coming years we will be making the curriculum more experiential, not only to make our students’ learning more accessible and effective, but also to better prepare them for a world that will focus more heavily on applied skills rather than theoretical distinctions.
A lasting memory of my reading of the Cockcroft report was that, at that time, only 8% of adults could answer the question ‘What is a million take away seven?’. Would be interesting to ask that question now to see the responses!