These days, the fact that your child will receive a maths education in the UK is taken for granted. From primary school to the end of GCSE, it is present on the curriculum. The City of Nottingham is reconciled as a center for excellence in maths as the Shell Center for Mathematical Education was set up. It has a close association with the highly respected Nottingham University School of Education. But it is not just a parochial educational research center, it has links with many resource providers and is part of the American ‘Math Assessment resource Service’ set up by the University of California at Berkley. The team at Nottingham have also contributed to the European PRIMAS scheme too. More recently, the University has contributed further to education of this subject when the CRME was set up in 2010.
I suppose that it is the ancient Greeks who will be associated with the earliest teachings of Maths. Pythagoras is undoubtedly the best known, however, there are many others. For example Thales who developed deductive reasoning, Democritus who was also a pioneer of geometry and many others, both well known and obscure. The Greeks treated maths as separate subjects – arithmetic was a different subject to geometry. The teaching of maths differed from state to state, some educated in schools whilst others educated at home. The choice of subjects depended on the class, with the upper classes being tutored little in the way of mathematics. Pythagoras set up a school and because of his observations and musings of the vibration of strings, music came under the umbrella of maths! Plato believed that the study of maths was the basis from which a student could then move into philosophical thinking as it developed the necessary logic and deductive skills required.
Even earlier were the Sumerians and Babylonians. Although little is known of their teaching, what is known is that they had a highly developed system of numbers, based on the number 60. It is thanks to them that we have 60 seconds in a minute and 360 degrees in a circle. To pass on and develop such things as tables to simplify multiplication, they must have had a ‘curriculum’ that included a significant element of arithmetic and algebra. Babylonian maths is believed to have influenced some of the Greek mathematicians.
During the middle ages, education was still largely unavailable to the masses and mathematics tended to be seen as a vocational subject, relevant to trades such as masons and merchants. Perhaps this was the time that we lost the philosophy of Plato? During the renaissance period in Europe, maths became even less widely taught as it was not an ‘arty’ subject and more related to trading and commercial activities. The resurgence came in the 17th century, pioneered by several top universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, who set up their chairs of mathematics. Teaching of the subject at a lower level than at university was still pretty much unheard of.
During the Industrial Revolution, numeracy became more and more important especially for engineers and businesses. This continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. The UK government, run as it is by civil servants far removed from the real word, has fiddled with maths teaching for many years. Faced with declining literacy and numeracy standards towards the end of the 20th century, it was included as one of the core subjects of the National Curriculum. It is a pity that they just didn’t realize that the American influenced ideas that were introduced to teaching during the 1960s and 1970s were at fault. The SMP changed maths teaching to the point of it being almost completely incomprehensible to most pupils. These days, an increasing number of parents are seeking out maths tutors to redress the balance.
School pupils, teachers and the UK government these days seem incapable of realizing that it is not the maths itself that matters, but the processes. It is a shame that Plato’s ideas seem to have been largely lost. Well, not exactly lost but even teachers and tutors of maths seem to teach it for the subject without emphasizing the transferable skills. If you are serious about maths education, attending the Nottingham University school of education would be a great career move for you.
If you are thinking about Nottingham as a place to study, here is a little information to whet your appetite. It is associated with Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham (in actual fact the post of Sheriff of Nottingham didn’t exist until a couple of centuries after the time of Robin Hood), which is pure legend. Under the city are the 450 or so caves of Nottingham, dug out over many centuries as storage cellars, dwellings and link tunnels. If you like beer, as many students do, you have one of England’s oldest pubs to visit – The Trip to Jerusalem. For the sporty, there are two league football teams and the Ice hockey team whilst for culture vultures there are museums and theaters.
So if your philosophy is ‘Platonic’ and you see the virtue of transferable skills in Maths, learn how to teach it here in the East Midlands!