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The Importance of Mathematics

I read in the paper this morning that the Education authorities are arranging for 30 Chinese maths teachers to come into our schools and show us a thing or two. The Chinese, you see have a 'can do' attitude towards mathematics and we desperately need to regain ours. I think this is a brilliant example of lateral thinking. I hasten to mention here that I have no criticism of maths teachers, far from it. I believe that over the years there has been a tendency to regard being hopeless at maths as a badge of honour and that proficiency in the subject is unnecessary because everyone uses a calculator.

For the first few of my grammar school years maths was a bit of a mystery to me and I recall that we had a rather high turnover of teachers - one even came out of retirement to plug the gap. Perhaps that was the problem. There was one teacher, Mr Bill Davies, who taught in the upper years and everyone seemed to fear him, he had been in Burma during the war and ran the school's ATC squadron. We kept out of his way when he was on playground duty because he stood no nonsense.

If I correctly recall he taught maths from the third form upwards and no-one was looking forward to the step up from the second form to the third purely because of Bill Davies.

But Bill Davies was brilliant, I don't know how he did it but he seemed to shine a light through the whole subject, we didn't mess around when he was teaching, we listened. He brought the subject to life. I learned and I started to enjoy learning.

The ATC Squadron came to an end at about the time that the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme was founded and he and Mr Coates, the chemistry master would take us on expeditions to the Prescelly mountains. We learned to take compass bearings and plot routes, do night exercises without getting lost, we learned to grow up!

He was an inspiration and I have benefitted from his teaching ever since. I didn't go on to the sixth form preferring to go out into the big world, I chose to work at the National Provincial Bank where I spent my time writing up customers' accounts in large ledgers. The electronic calculator had not been invented so all calculations were done manually and in the days of pre-decimal that was not easy - there were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound and interest on overdrafts had to be calculated on a daily basis. You cannot possibly imagine how cumbersome that was, but that is what I did - we all did.

Today it is easy to think that we can just rely on computers and calculators after all, computers in the form of our mobile phones are always in our pockets. To an extent this is true. However we do need to use our brains, just like a dog the brain needs excercise and a great deal of pleasure can be had in giving it the occasional stroll - and it can save you money!

Every now and then supermarkets have offers where they will give you 6p off a litre of fuel if you spend over £60. Spend £59.99 and you don't qualify, spend £69.99 and it may be that you have overbought and you have accumulated far too much in the way of toilet rolls say. Well never mind, just put a few bags of prunes on your next shopping list! I find I can estimate the value of my trolley to within a few pounds by just adding up the pounds and estimating the pence and in a way I quite enjoy the challenge. I know that sounds trivial but maths and arithmetic are part of our basic life skills even when you reach the mature age I have. Our nation has to be able to compete in the real world, there is no hiding that fact . Our young people have to be able to compete for jobs in the real world, there is no hiding place there either.

The world owes no-one any favours - in general we are not born with an ability or inability to do maths.

Literacy and numeracy are essential lifeskills. An inability in either is not a badge of honour - if you catch someone boasting of their numeracy inability do them a favour and give them a good telling off!

There, I feel much better now!

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