50 Years

Today was world book day and I read out loud to 5 classes. I am not an avid reader and certainly reading out loud is something I seldom choose to do apart from to my own children.

Our English department found a short story and split into 6 parts. I thought it was a cool idea and gladly took part. The story was about the perils of being a stowaway on an emergency supply spaceship with the innocence of believing that it wouldn’t matter. The stowaway just wanted to hitch a ride to see their relative. The story doesn’t have a happy ending and I was left feeling remorse for a character that I had only spent a short time reading about.

The author wrote the story in the 1950’s when sci-fi and space travel was still a dream for people. In the 50’s years that followed we have been to the moon, created 2 space stations that orbit the Earth and have sent probes and satellites to comets and far flung reaches of our solar system. These are massive achievements but in the 50’s they expected that we would have colonised other worlds and have a human presence permanently off world.

The reason why I am writing about this is that being a Maths teacher I am often asked by students why they need to learn about these topics or skills that we teach them. The general overview of Maths education in schools probably hasn’t changed a great deal since the 1950’s and yet we still teach the same topics.

So I respond to my students with a simple “50”. With perplexed faces they respond what does 50 mean?

  • The number of years that they will be in employment after leaving education.
  • The percentage of jobs that exist now that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

I then talk about what school was like 20 years ago when I left. There were approximately 3 students in my year that owned a mobile phone. There are now less that 3 students in the class that don’t own one. There were no smart phones, apps, touch screens. The internet was slow and text based and we only had 1 email for the school.

The realisation that we are completely in the dark about where the next 50 years of our lives will take us then sinks in. I teach them topics to develop them into a place where when new problem or idea comes along they have some useful skills that will take what they know and understand and apply it to a problem that they haven’t across before.

There may be a vast amount of information that we teach our students that they may never need or remember but the process of learning is one that is required for the rest of their lives.


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