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World Maths Day – why we need to challenge existing perceptions of STEM subjects
This World Maths Day is a good opportunity to dispel some of the stereotypes around maths and the STEM curriculum more widely. The recent news that the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE has dropped 40% since 2015, combined with the ongoing global tech skills shortage across a number of industries, demonstrates that more needs to be done to boost engagement with these subjects.
This starts with educating the educators and enabling industry role models to feed into the curriculum. From an early stage in schools, maths is often taught in terms of right and wrong answers. To help dispel the myth that maths is rigid, students should instead be taught exploration, which involves stressing the fact that there are many ways to find an answer. Maths can also be taught from a different perspective altogether. As opposed to focusing on finding an answer, teachers can emphasis what can be – and has been – derived using maths. Look at the wonderful Mandelbrot drawings, for example. The maths is simple yet the output is true artwork. And the same can be said about the maths behind Bach’s music.
Additionally, teaching should include input from industry role models on what they do as part of their day-to-day job roles. Many people educated in STEM end up using computers in ways they never imagined when they were studying. Often this combines programming with collaborating in teams to solve issues together, which requires a combination of hard and soft skills.
In fact, I believe that computer science and maths should be seen as liberal arts. Maths requires having good intuition and can be beautiful if taught in the right way. Across the technology sector, it is vitally important that we challenge current perceptions of STEM subjects. This way, we can not only encourage the next generation of talent to enter into technology careers underpinned by IT, maths and problem solving skills, but we can also make the industry more inclusive as a whole.