The Russell Group who form the oldest and most established Universities in the UK, are to open a series of colleges specialising in Mathematics. It’s one of a series of initiatives to try and address a downward spiral in the subject in the UK.
The colleges will have limited numbers but will offer expert tuition from academics, will offer Oxbridge entrance exams and allow students to take part in advanced subjects like Robotics and medical testing as part of their dissertations. The initiative was unveiled by the Education secretary last week but many fear that it will only have a small impact on a lucky few pupils who are able to attend.
There is a fear, although one that seems ever present in any developed country, that the standards of mathematics is falling behind other countries. For example some estimate that a child from a poor family in China is likely to be about a year ahead of a child from a wealthy UK family in mathematics.
It’s not always the best measurement though as there are many who disagree with the factory style education system in China. Pupils in China always do well in scientific based fact tests but fare poorly in other areas which measure imagination, cognitive reason and communication skills. These are skills that drive invention and ultimately push economies forward with new ideas and entrepreneurial development.
There is little doubt that these colleges will produce fine mathematicians. Each college will be hugely oversubscribed and will require that pupils sit a numeracy aptitude test, followed by an interview in order to achieve a place. Combine this with the better resources and a high standard of tuition then it can hardly fail to give a big boost to those students who are selected.
Hopefully more resources will be directed at other students in order to bring up the overall level of numeracy in the UK. The sad reality that producing a few hundred gifted mathematicians is not on it’s own going to improve general standards.
There are other initiatives being implemented however and some more to be announced soon linked in with the new free schools. You can find more information on the British media sites including the BBC, for those outside the UK – use this watch Iplayer abroad to access all the documentaries and news feeds.
Gillian Hensforth: Education and Technology.