Face off: Should maths be a compulsory subject at school?

  • Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint
  • This time, they discuss whether mathematics is really that important
Kelly Fung |
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Should maths be a compulsory subject in school?

Amber Kwok, Renaissance College

Despite being pretty bad at maths and the fact that I find it really boring, I’d still say yes. It’s important to challenge yourself to improve, by solving problems and learning to complete tasks that may not be very enjoyable along the way.

If I didn’t have to take maths, then I don’t think I’d enjoy my favourite subjects – art, design and technology (DT), and English – nearly as much.

Maths should be compulsory from kindergarten until the end of primary school because it helps us with basic calculations. But even in secondary school, the more difficult maths that doesn’t seem to have any practical use can still be helpful in teaching us to think about abstract concepts.

A lot of us think we are “bad at maths” when we are actually not interested or don’t have a basic foundation in the subject. Forcing yourself to learn it anyway means that you’ll be better equipped to overcome skills-related problems later in life.

I don’t actually think I am learning anything useful in maths right now, but it sometimes serves as a refreshing break from my favourite subjects. It forces me to consider the different ways that problems can be approached: if I’m tired of thinking creatively in art and DT, the process of thinking logically and working towards a single, correct answer in maths offers much-needed relief.

Overall, it’s important to understand the true value of school subjects: more than the knowledge you gain from them, they make you think, learn new things, and solve problems – skills that are very useful in the future.

Maths can teach you about discipline, self-control, critical thinking and concentration, even if you don’t like it.

Face off: Should social media platforms stop collecting user data?

Yuhan Huang, German Swiss International School

Maths has long been a compulsory subject in school. But this does not take into consideration the way the subject is taught in school today or how to deal with students who don’t like it.

Many students believe maths should be reserved for geniuses and geeks. In the United States, 37 per cent of 13- to 17-year-old students ranked maths as their most difficult subject, according to a 2004 Gallup Youth Survey.

In secondary school, maths deals with abstract concepts when compared to the straightforward maths problems of primary education. For example, precalculus and trigonometry courses are difficult because we can’t visualise those problems and they are not connected to our everyday experiences. They are of little practical use in most people’s futures.

Maths is often a matter of rote learning and repetitive problem-solving, which can be a problem for students who don’t like this style of learning. Although many students appreciate the depth of the maths syllabus, for most jobs, they only need arithmetic.

A subject should not be forced on students. It would be much better if maths became a voluntary subject in senior secondary school, instead of a compulsory one. This would means it would only attract students who are passionate about it, while others could focus on subjects they were interested in.

This way, students would learn basic maths skills in primary and junior secondary school, which would help them in the future.

In addition, the practical use of maths can be taught in subjects more relevant to students, such as electronic music production or web design, so that its various functions are not entirely lost on them.

The maths curriculum is packed with formulas and concepts, making it very challenging for some students. What’s more, the answers are right or wrong, which leaves little room for students to express their creativity or opinion like they do in other subjects, such as English and liberal studies.

Do students really need to be taught maths for their entire school lives, regardless of their dislike for a subject with limited practical use? I don’t think so.

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