Published on November 5th, 2014 | by St Peter's College


When are we ever going to use this? A familiar question asked about Mathematics.

“When are we ever going to use this?” This is the often-heard complaint of disaffected mathematics students all over the world. The flippant answer might be ‘never’ but the reality is that the skills honed over by the diligent student will stand them in good stead whatever pathway they choose.

For those pupils destined for mathematical research or engineering a thorough grounding of the subject is clearly essential. We must not, however, make the error that this is the limit of the use for mathematics.

The capabilities developed through the study of mathematics are eminently transferable: For example, the rigorous and logical discipline of a deductive proof has many parallels with forming a legal argument; the discerning use of statistics may be decisive when interpreting market research; and the ability to clearly articulate complex ideas and calculations is crucial when presenting a business case. Indeed, a significant assessment component of both the South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) and the International Baccalaureate Mathematics courses focuses upon the exploration and communication of mathematics.

Although the Australian Curriculum for Mathematics is very content-heavy, the challenge for today’s educators today is to focus upon the proficiencies articulated by ACARA: Understanding, Fluency, Problem Solving and Reasoning. These are the really transportable skills that quite rightly make mathematics a compulsory part of the educational landscape: Spotting patterns, generalising, testing conjectures and form conclusions.

Successes in individual aspects of mathematics bring confidence to approach unfamiliar problems. Mathematics is all about problem solving: Bringing your toolbox of skills, your experience, together with some intuition and applying them all to a new scenario. That is exactly what thousands of Year 12 students will be doing over the next few weeks as they sit their final exams, and it is what 14 million young mathematicians from all around the world who compete in the Australian Mathematics Competition each year.

If we based our educational curriculum simply upon content that we are likely to use during life after school then art classes would focus upon painting magnolia walls and science lessons would ensure that all students could rewire a plug. Australia needs a new generation of young people who are confident and able to harness the power and beauty of mathematics. Mathematicians have led great advances in technology through taking calculated risks, challenging conventional wisdom and most importantly persevering with difficult problems. We must encourage our students to have high expectations and aim to study the highest level of mathematics they can – for as long as they can.

Ultimately the answer to the opening question is: “You never know when you might use it – in fact, you might not even realize when you are using it!”

Mark Robson
Head of Mathematics
St Peter’s College

St Peter’s College is proud to host the 2014 Commonwealth Bank Australian Mathematics Trust South Australian Awards Ceremony on Wednesday 12 November 2014 and congratulates the Saints prizewinners and all SA students in their significant achievements during this year’s competition. The Maths@Saints program provides a huge variety of opportunities for boys who wish to explore their passion and interest in mathematics from both a recreational and competitive perspective with like-minded students.

The collaborative learning opportunities are outstanding and help build confidence and fluency in the subject.

About the Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑