Stop teaching Math!

Now I have your attention, let me give you perspective. This post is about integration of traditional subjects (silos). When I say “Stop teaching Math,” I mean as an isolated hour of just Math, but I also mean all other subjects too. The reason that the world often finds school leavers and even graduates lack basic skills is not because they haven’t had an hour of English and a separate hour of Math every day for over a decade, it’s because isolating each skillset means children never get to put any skill into real practice, i.e. in the context of the other skills. Because life doesn’t challenge in this isolated and abstract way, children can become reluctant or fearful to try more complex tasks – real life! No matter how much discussion takes place about the speed of world change in tech, population, and the environment, most schools continue the way they always have.

Hoop Jumpers not required

When speaking to employers this year, four have independently brought up the fact that they shy away from employing graduates (never mind school leavers) because they lack initiative and confidence. I believe it’s due to conditioning by both elementary and high schools that focus on compartmentalising each challenge so that official lists of required learnings can be ticked off, regardless of their context. In addition to isolating each skill, it is normal for all parameters, expectations, and desired output to be placed before the students. This leads to unengaged “hoop jumpers” only willing to deal with problems if they have already been fully documented. The world is changing fast and employers now ask “what can you offer me in coping wth the unknown?” as apposed to the previous century where most jobs had their hoops already well defined for newbies to conform to. Last millennium, hoop jumpers were useful but not any longer.

“Soft” now beats “Hard”

The isolating of subject matter into ‘manageable chunks” fails to address the skills required to merge things together in preparation for life outside the ‘factory’ school. It is the ‘soft’ skills that are used to bring everything together and make progress. These soft skills are now regularly valued more highly than the traditional knowledge-based hard skills.

Soft Skills such as:

  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving
  • Collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Positivity
  • Learning from criticism …

… make any hard skill useful, are harder to learn, and relate better to a much more interpersonal and connected world. We now live in a skills-based job market and prepackaged, departmentalised learning modules do not allow children to truely practice any of the skills listed above. As schools continue to devalue these soft skills (many people think the term ‘soft’ doesn’t help their cause), they hold onto their tradition approach where co-curricular activities like shows and sports are carried out with fingers-crossed that maybe they might develop them. Simply hoping they might develop soft skills is not good enough and they must become the focus of the school day (not just an hour). They should also not be compartmentalised themselves into a subject called ‘life skills.’ This is just as damaging and the focus should be on making learners conscious of the their development within complex tasks and not just as more subject matter to be memorised.

New Zealand makes integration official

This bit is really just for kiwi educators. I must highlight that in my home country, integration of learning areas is not just my opinion but official mandate. The National Curriculum, the Education Review Office (ERO), and the Ministry of Education, all have integration of subjects as a target. The curriculum states:

“[Traditional learning areas] should not limit the ways in which schools structure the learning experiences offered to students. All Learning should make use of the natural connections that exist between learning areas and that link learning areas to the values and key competencies.”

In New Zealand, if you are still running an hour of isolated maths, you are officially heading in the wrong direction. I know it might be habit and difficult to imagine mathematical thinking being taught as part of an integrated programme, but it’s officially your target for 2018 to turn your math teaching into contextualised math consultancy.

Extra Math Videos:

Here’s a Math teacher explaining that even Math Teaching itself isn’t in great shape(excuse the pun)

Here’s a world top mathematician also explaining why schools don’t teach Math in the first place:





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