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
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
There, I feel much better now!