Maths courses in schools must focus on real-world situations

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 December, 2010, 12:00am

Under the revamped New Secondary School academic structure, students must attain Level 2 in mathematics as a condition for entry to universities. Some believe that this would deprive liberal arts-focused students of university education even if they met all other entry requirements.

Mathematics should be designated a mandatory subject, given its importance in developing students' analytical skills.

We are increasingly confronted with materials involving mathematical concepts, as well as information presented in tabular and graphical formats. A good grasp of maths is useful when planning for retirement, applying for a mortgage or managing personal finances. Knowledge in maths is essential for participation in society.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development describes mathematical literacy as 'the capacity to identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the real world, to make well-founded judgments and to use and engage with mathematics in ways that meet the needs of that individual's life as a constructive, concerned and reflective citizen'. It follows, then, that education in maths should be concerned with enhancing the capacities of students to analyse and communicate ideas effectively as they interpret and solve practical problems. Given its potential for widespread application and intrinsic value, mathematics should be made more welcoming to students. It should move beyond typical textbook problems and focus on real-world situations.

It should not be merely a body of abstract ideas, but rather a part of our lives. Currently, the senior mathematics curriculum in Hong Kong is structured as the learning of a philosophy of science. The focus on definitions and algorithms bears little relevance to society and fails to highlight the applicability of mathematics to our life.

A certain level of academic rigour may be said to be necessary within the curriculum to challenge the more advanced students who are apt to solve complex mathematic proofs and understand abstract concepts. Nevertheless, flexibility should be in place to allow students to choose the appropriate level of mathematics course according to their abilities. The maths course for students at large needs to be redesigned to ease the average student's anxieties and build confidence in mathematics, while providing the basic knowledge and fundamental skills required for today's citizens.

It is important for young Hongkongers to complete their formal, requisite maths education and apply their mathematical knowledge as reflective citizens and intelligent consumers.

The importance of mathematics in formulating one's analytical mindset and its relevance to our lives constitute a sensible rationale for making maths a core subject in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education.

The Education Bureau should give priority to modifying the current curriculum to incorporate materials that would help students tackle real-world problems in different stages of their lives.

Emily Shum, member, International Mathematical Olympiad Hong Kong Committee