There's a Formula for Teaching Beauty

Times Educational Supplement, June 6, 2014 | Go to article overview

There's a Formula for Teaching Beauty


When the manager of Manchester City Football Club, Manuel Pellegrini, got his sums wrong in December last year, he soon found that the beautiful game had an ugly side. His failure to calculate how many goals his side needed to beat Bayern Munich to qualify as Champions League group winner earned him taunts from his own supporters, whose chant cruelly highlighted his lack of mathematical skills: "Pellegrini whoah-oh-oh, Pellegrini whoah-oh-oh, he came from Malaga, he's shit at algebra."

A good knowledge of mathematics is obviously useful whoever you are. We need it to solve problems, both in the dizzy realms of international football and in our everyday lives, and the hapless Mr Pellegrini could have benefited from a lesser-known A-level in the "use of mathematics", were it not for Ofqual's axe wielded on this and 23 other subjects this week (bit.ly/OfqualAxe).

He could also learn a thing or two from the Panini World Cup sticker book, favourite of football-mad children and men the world over. This, The Economist tells us, can give collectors a lesson in probability, as well as the value of statistical tests, supply and demand, and the importance of liquidity.

However, unlike Mr Pellegrini, who apologised for his errors, most adults in this country seem unembarrassed by their lack of mathematical prowess and set a bad example to children, according to education minister Liz Truss, with their poor numeracy skills costing the country £20 billion a year.

This so-called anti-maths culture contrasts sharply with the "can-do attitude" of Pisa darling Shanghai, who topped the international league table for maths, and from whom the government is borrowing up to 60 teachers to help us brush up on our teaching methods. …

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