Recommendations: the mathematical activity of young people

Cultural shift

As explained in the section addressing the reasons for problems in mathematics education, negative attitudes toward mathematics are widely seen as a cause of the problems. The recommendations related to improving attitudes suggest that we need to better understand why (or why not) students are motivated to continue studying mathematics (Royal Society, 2011), we need to ‘instigate a cultural shift’ (Harris, 2012, p. 11) and we must ‘seek to change behaviour’ (British Academy, 2012a, p. 9). Harris further suggests that:

The government and mathematics community should consider whether they believe it is more important for mathematics to remain as a ‘hard’ subject amongst AS and A levels, or whether it is more important that participation numbers rise significantly (2012, p. 39).

Advice and Guidance

As discussed previously, it seems that very many young people are ill-informed about the benefits of mathematics for their future employability and careers. In England a new on-line careers service was launched in September 2011, and a first recommendation in this section calls for information provided by the service to be easy to access and of good quality (Royal Society, 2011). Other recommendations suggest that teachers (schools) should provide careers-related advice (ACME, 2011; Archer, Osborne, & DeWitt, 2012; British Academy, 2012b; Finegold, 2011; Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, 2013; Science Learning Centre, 2013), and that they should be better informed not only about the options available to students but also the requirements of the workplace and higher education (ACME, 2011; Archer et al., 2012; Finegold, 2011; Porkess, 2012).

A more concrete recommendation is made by Finegold (2011), who suggests that:

Informal STEM learning activity, such as clubs and visits, should be more explicitly linked to careers (p. 7)

Other recommendations appear to be aimed more at employers and HE. The message is that it is their responsibility to be explicit about what mathematics is required, both for courses in HE and in the workplace (ACME, 2011, 2012; British Academy, 2012b; Nuffield, 2012).  For example:

Now more than ever, persuasive messages must go out from both universities and employers about the value of quantitative skills to prospective students, teachers, parents, and school leaders. University admissions tutors must put out the message that the social sciences and humanities value post-16 mathematical and statistical qualifications (British Academy, 2012b, p. 9).

A handful of reports acknowledge the importance of parents (or carers) in providing support, advice and guidance for young people (Archer et al., 2012; Finegold, 2011; Science Learning Centre, 2013; Vorderman, Porkess, Budd, Dunne, & Rahman-hart, 2011). Finegold (2011), for example, argues that the awareness and confidence of parents should be increased:

The importance of parents and families in influencing pupils’ career choices is often overlooked. Since many adults are fearful or simply unaware of STEM subjects, Government, schools and other agencies should consider how to increase parents’ awareness and confidence (p. 7).

A final recommendation in this section relates to the point made previously that little is known about how effective advice and guidance are for students (Hodgen, Marks, & Pepper, 2013). The same report suggests that:

Further research is needed to evaluate the effects – and cost benefits – of specific approaches to giving information, advice and guidance to students, particularly those interventions aimed at informing students about the personal rewards and benefits of studying advanced mathematics. (p. 10)

References

ACME. (2011). Mathematical Needs Mathematics in the workplace and in Higher Education. London.

ACME. (2012). Increasing provision and participation in post-16 mathematics. London.

Archer, L., Osborne, J., & DeWitt, J. (2012). The Case for Early Education about STEM careers. London.

British Academy. (2012a). Society Counts: Quantitative Skills in the Social Sciences (A Position Paper). London.

British Academy. (2012b). Society Counts: Quantitative Skills in the Social Sciences (A Position Paper). London.

Finegold, P. (2011). Good Timing. London.

Harris, J. (2012). Rational Numbers. London.

Hodgen, J., Marks, R., & Pepper, D. (2013). Towards universal participation in post-16 mathematics : lessons from high-performing countries. London.

Nuffield. (2012). Mathematics in A level assessments. London.

Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. (2013). STEM education for 14-19 year olds (pp. 1–4). London.

Porkess, R. (2012). The Future of Statistics. London.

Royal Society. (2011). Preparing for the transfer from school and college science and mathematics education to UK STEM higher education. London.

Science Learning Centre. (2013). The future of STEM education. York.

Vorderman, C., Porkess, R., Budd, C., Dunne, R., & Rahman-hart, P. (2011). A world-class mathematics education for all our young people. London.

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