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Maths Matter: Why it’s worth sticking it out when the going gets tough

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In senior high school, the Mathematics syllabus becomes more challenging than ever, and many learners may be tempted to ditch the subject in favour of something less taxing, particularly if they intend to pursue a career that ostensibly doesn’t require Maths.

But an expert advises learners and parents to think very carefully before doing so, as a solid grounding in the subject can make a lifelong difference not only to one’s career prospects, but also to those areas of life which seemingly have nothing to do with numbers.

“At school we are told regularly that if we do not keep Mathematics as a subject we will not gain access to a Commerce or Science degree of our choice.  What we often do not hear is that apart from providing access to limited enrolment degrees, sticking with Maths provides important life skills and a competitive advantage you won’t find anywhere else,” says Aaron Koopman, Head of Programme: Faculty of Commerce at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education provider.

Koopman says that even those learners opting for Maths Literacy should continue to take the mathematical steps and processes seriously, as a solid grounding in Maths truly sets one up for life.

Maths teaches you so much – from the memory and recall skills you gained from learning your times tables, to the focus and concentration that mental arithmetic calculations strengthen, through to the most important skills of all related logic, reason and problem-solving,” he says.

“Sure, you may never have to solve a quadratic equation again if you pursue a career in communication, but you will be required to understand a problem and the correct sequence of steps required to solve it, and there is no better place to get that discipline and expertise than from Maths.”

Koopman says Maths also enables you to understand sequencing and planning – starting at the right point and working methodically to get the right answer. And when it does not work out the way it should, it is one’s mathematical and analytical skills that help you to work through each step and figure out why things did not turn out the way they should have.

“Furthermore, Mathematics is believed to encourage creativity. Not only does it teach clear and sensible thought, but it exposes learners to challenging concepts and unresolved problems. Through this experience, learners can apply themselves in resolving these problems, often in a creative manner.”

It is also now well understood that nature follows many mathematical rules – and proportion, balance and pattern are all mathematical concepts, notes Koopman.

“That balance between creative freedom and leveraging the repetitive sequence of patterns that results in things humans see as beautiful is at the heart of much art that has continued to appeal over the centuries.

“Maths also helps you develop persistence as you apply and discard solutions while trying to make sense of a problem.  Maths is the bridge between the world we live in – think of the ‘story sums’ we started in our early grades – and the creative and brilliant solutions that lie behind the world’s best inventions.”

And very importantly, companies are increasingly looking for graduates with powerful thinking and troubleshooting capacity – just the competencies that are developed and nurtured through mathematics.

“A young person who is mathematically proficient and has honed these skills will find that the world of work is a flexible and engaging space where how you learn is recognised as so much more valuable than what you learned.  From understanding numbers and statistics – the ‘hard skills’ that Maths gives you – to applying systematic and logical reasoning or solving a human resource problem, a mind that has been exercised by Maths will reach strong conclusions quickly and have the skills to test itself,” Koopman says.

“The systematic nature of Mathematics develops clear and coherent thought of students. This results in the ability to understand how and why things work in a certain way. In a business environment that is characterised by constant change, the analysis of one’s environment becomes fundamentally important and through Mathematics, analytical skills and critical thinking is promoted. Mathematics equips learners with the ability to be proactive, detect problems and to develop suitable solutions earlier, which provides a competitive advantage regardless of one’s field.”

As we move into the fourth industrial revolution, in which technological innovation is at the forefront, graduates who did not necessarily study Maths but retained an engagement and respect for it will be well positioned to propel their organisations and respective divisions in the right direction, says Koopman.

Additionally, anyone leading a team or department regardless of industry will need to be financially literate and able to manage sometimes substantial budgets.

“Therefore we encourage learners to persevere and if necessary get additional help to master Maths, even if they feel they may not ‘need’ Maths in future. Regardless of what you are planning to do career-wise, a solid grounding in Maths will empower you for the rest of your life,” Koopman says.

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