Friday, September 2

Getting kids to do more maths

As you may know, I am a STEM ambassador and once every month or so, pop into a London school to speak to children about them doing more STEM and talk about how I use Maths in my day to day work. So it was with interest that I read this article

I quote

The math myth is the myth that the future of the American economy is dependent upon the masses having higher mathematics skills. This myth goes back to at least Sputnik, when the Russians were going to surpass us because they were better in math and science. It returned in the late 80's when the Germans and Japanese were going to surpass us because they were better in math and science. It's occurring again now because the Indians and Chinese are better than us in math and science.   I find it difficult to find anyone who uses more than Excel and eighth grade level mathematics (=arithmetic, and a little bit of algebra, statistics and programming). In the summer of 2007 I taught an advanced geometry course and had two students in the class who had been engineers and one who had been an actuary. They claimed never to have used anything beyond Excel and eighth grade level mathematics; never a trig function or even a log or exponential function! There is in fact a deskilling going on in our economy, where even the ability to make change is about to disappear as an important skill.  Vivek Wadhwa has described how there's no shortage of scientists and engineers. I've been concerned with what skills those who are working as scientists and engineers actually use. I find that the vast majority of scientists, engineers and actuaries only use Excel and eighth grade level mathematics. This suggests that most jobs that currently require advanced technical degrees are using that requirement simply as a filter. In particular, I'm working on documenting the following:   Math Myth Conjecture: If one restricts one's attention to the hardest cases, namely, graduates of top engineering schools such as MIT,  RPI,  Cal. Tech., Georgia Tech., etc., then the percent of such individuals holding engineering as opposed to management, financial or other positions, and using more than Excel and eighth grade level mathematics (arithmetic, a little bit of algebra, a little bit of statistics, and a little bit of programming) is less than 25% and possibly less than 10%.
Now there's obviously a difference in outlook here. I work in banking and we DO use mathematics. We use statistics, we use calculus, we use matrix algebra and we can get some really funky stuff. We use operational research and optimisation techniques. Dont forget we also use quite a lot of physics (money behaves like a fluid?) and stuff like that. In many of my banking jobs, i hired PhD's in physics, chemistry, astronomy, comp science, etc. But no trigonometry :) or geometry. 

But i can see why people want to use it as a filter. Doing Maths gives signals that you are structured, you are able to handle abstractions, you care good with numbers, you can review and analyse numbers, so on and so forth. It also gives signals that you are a good analyst (not that sure about this one). I would also posit that people with maths are maybe a bit more financial literate? although I dont have any evidence for this

So interesting view. 

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