Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

Mathematics Education - Making It Fit for Purpose

Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

Mathematics Education - Making It Fit for Purpose

Article excerpt

The ambitious programme that is Cambridge Mathematics was launched in March 2015 at the British Library in London. One year on seems an appropriate time to share to a wider audience what we have been doing, why we're doing it, and what we're aiming to do in these first five years. This article gives some of the background and presents some questions that we hope will inspire you to contribute to the discussion.

Why Cambridge Maths?

In many countries, it seems, there is some dissatisfaction with the current state of mathematics education. PISA and TIMMS rankings figure large in the minds of policy makers in education, who interrogate the mathematics curriculum and pedagogies of higher performing jurisdictions in an effort to determine the secrets of their success. High attainment in mathematics is seen as a key determiner of success in a globalised world which needs scientists and engineers, amongst others, to solve the problems of the future and ensure countries remain competitive.

Arguments abound about what would make a mathematics curriculum appropriate for the 21st century, including taking into account rapid changes in technology and informatics. How much, and what, do students need to know, and what habits of mind is it sensible to inculcate in order to prepare for life and work in the remainder of the century? Closer to home, many teachers describe the tension they feel between teaching mathematics for that deep understanding and creativity, and the pressure for students to perform well in high stakes tests which often favour procedural fluency over the solving of non-routine problems.

It is in the light of these issues, all of which seem to be particularly acute in the UK at present, that four departments' of Cambridge University have come together to try to do something different.

Competence in mathematics has been identified at EU level as one of the key competences for personal fulfilment, active citizenship, social inclusion, and employability in the local knowledge society of the 21st century.

(Mathematics in Education in Europe: Common Challenges and National Policies)

The Manifesto

The manifesto for Cambridge Maths can be read in full on the website ( In summary, it sets out the aims and the principles underpinning our work: that Cambridge Maths will champion access for all students; use rigorous research to determine the most: effective ways of working that will improve outcomes; work and consult with partners in mathematics education both nationally and internationally in the public and private sectors; and develop a coherent and integrated programme.

The Framework

About: 25 years ago the Council of Europe devised the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Its main aim was to provide a method of learning, teaching and assessing which applied to all languages in Europe, and it later became the basis of systems of validation of language ability. CEFR is now a widely accepted framework and thus prompted the suggestion that it could be possible to design an equivalent useful structure for mathematics.

The Framework will be the spine of the Cambridge Mathematics programme. It is a mapping of that part of the mathematics domain appropriate for students from five to 19, whatever the purpose of their study. We need, for example, to equip students to study to become academic mathematicians, to become highly skilled engineers, plumbers, hairdressers, teachers, and, not least, competent citizens who are able to make informed choices. We see these as different pathways through the framework, their starting points probably the same but diverging as the routes continue.

A quick way to design such a mapping would have been to amalgamate all the good bits from the various successful international curricula - to look for a lowest common denominator or perhaps a highest common factor! However the partnership feels that this is an opportunity to think afresh, learn from the latest educational and mathematical evidence and research, and also of course from successful international projects. …

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