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Pick up your compasses, we’re studying maths until 18 now!

I’m sure we all remember our maths lessons. Memories of counting down the minutes until you could go to lunch and finding any way to not do that last simultaneous equation will resonate with many, and whether you’ve continued to embrace the underworld of calculus, trigonometry, and other cryptic languages, we can all agree to holding mixed memories of our mathematical origins. Yet, although we persistently groaned, mumbled, and protested over the relevance of having numerical concepts forced into our heads, we can certainly agree it came with benefits. Whether it’s to work out our weekly budget or calculate the proportion of sugar to add to our baking, having a mathematical background certainly gave us a backbone to make these everyday actions easier.

These aren’t the only benefits of learning maths to a high level. A recent study from the University of Oxford shows that continuing to study mathematics above the age of 16 has enhanced the rate and efficiency of brain development, making it clear that learning maths comes with its benefits. But should it really be a requirement up to the age of 18, Mr Sunak?

Over the last few weeks, Rishi Sunak, the United Kingdom’s current prime minister, has floated the suggestion of maths being a requirement in education until the age of 18. Proposed due to the increase in careers relating to data and statistics, Mr Sunak claimed that in the near-future, analytics will underpin every job, and he wants to give everyone the correct background to deal with it. Although this might be true, it certainly seems like a ‘grenade’ approach to tackling the issue. Just because you’re going to have to write emails, does that mean we should also have to continue studying English?

The prime minister’s idea is seemingly one-dimensional and short sighted. Yes, it would provide people with a sufficient background to easily interpret the rising statistical presence, but it overlooks three equally important factors.

The period of 16-18 years of age is a huge milestone in deciding what you want to specialise in

Firstly, maths isn’t just statistics. As I imagine we all remember, maths covers everything from calculating the rate of the rate of the rate of change of stocks to working out the area of a rhombus (I still don’t know what that even is), and although it does make data analysis a little less daunting, statistics interpretation is a confusingly small part of maths for it to be a reason that people must take maths.

Secondly, it’s a third of your life and rarely a third of your job. Rishi Sunak proposes everyone takes maths up to the age of 18, at the standard of A-level or equivalent. The period of 16-18 years of age is a huge milestone in deciding what you want to specialise in. If everyone took maths to that standard, it would encompass a third of their studies. Now I’m sure that some sort of maths is part of a huge range of professions these days but it will almost certainly not be a third of the average job!

Finally, we have to ask where this train of thought ends. A-levels are meant for specialising, but will other subjects also become a requirement?

Maths may help our data handling abilities when we reach a new job, however Sunak’s overlooked a chasm of other required skills such as coherent writing, debating, and logical thinking, just to name a few. It’s thereby understandable to ponder whether other subjects like English language could become a requirement. We could then get a snowball effect of required learning until we all have the same skillsets but with different inherent skills.

More acceptable refinements would include adding a maths topic into every subject where it’s relevant

Although I’ve outlined a few refutes to Mr Sunak’s idea, it doesn’t mean there’s no merit in everyone having a bit more mathematical understanding. In most modern professions, having an increased level of numerical proficiency could certainly boost job viability and efficiency, as well as make many people more comfortable in more maths-heavy professions. Furthermore, while writing this, I sincerely thought there was a genetic component in mathematical learning ability. And although some studies have claimed this might be the case, a whirlwind of modern research actually claims children have a pretty much equal mathematical and analytical potential, it’s simply the motivation for that type of learning that can be genetically predisposed. This means that if maths was a requirement to the age of 18, it might force students to reach a more similar level of understanding.

The idea of everyone learning maths up to the age of 18 is not entirely ludicrous, it just doesn’t have the right execution. More acceptable refinements would include adding a maths topic into every subject where it’s relevant, or having different branches of maths including stats, life maths (taxes, loans, bills etc.) and basic maths, where everyone has to take one of the options. With these refinements into more specialised areas of maths being studied, it could become more agreeable and individually applicable for some form of maths requirement to the age of 18, rather than simply being forced to learn something you might not use or have a natural inclination towards.

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