by Katie White

Why bother teaching maths to boys?

Cute little boy learning playfully in frot of a big blackboard. Studio shot on beige background.

As a maths teacher, one of my biggest challenges is helping teenage boys find real-life connections for the maths that they learn at school. Today’s adolescent boy lives in world where we pay with plastic, not cash. Where Siri can work out percentages in seconds. If he doesn’t know the answer to a problem, he just Googles it. Why would he bother learning maths?

Many of my students have confessed that they only study maths is because it’s a core requirement for many university courses (and perhaps because their Gen X parents, and teachers, keep banging on about how important it is).

Here’s why I believe maths is important to the men – and women – of tomorrow (and it’s not just because I’m a maths teacher – honest…)

Maths builds financial savvy and independence

Maths builds on our numeracy skills – the ability to understand and work with numbers. Why is numeracy important? In its simplest terms, numeracy plays an important role in developing the life skills needed for an independent existence. As much as we love to nurture our boys, want them to grow into young men who can live an independent life. Without basic maths skills this is going to be tricky. Numeracy skills are required in order to follow a recipe, evaluate whether or not a sale item is a good deal, and manage a budget. No one wants a grown up son who runs home to mum and dad every time he’s called on to cook, make a purchase or save for the future.

“In maths, students are required to explain how they arrived at a solution to a complex problem … an extremely transferrable skill whatever your son decides he wants to do.”

Katie White, Maths teacher

Maths develops logic and critical thinking

Maths teaches boys logic and order. A mathematical equation is likely to have a predictable outcome, and precise steps must be followed in order to attain that result. The ‘discipline of mind’ boys develop in math class will stand them in good stead in all areas of their life – including money, career, parenthood and relationships. Maths can also provide a vehicle through which critical-thinking skills are put into practice and refined. In maths, students are required to explain how they arrived at a solution to a complex problem or to describe the ideas behind a formula or procedure – an extremely transferrable skill whatever your son decides he wants to do for work in the future.

The jobs of today need maths

Many jobs require maths skills. There are the obvious ones: builders, architects, engineers, scientists and doctors; however some examples of other types of jobs that also require maths skills include:

  • Cartoon animators use linear algebra and geometry to show the way that an object is rotated and shifted.
  • Special effects directors use powerful computing equipment, numerical methods and algorithms to make most of the spectacular feats in the visual effects industry.
  • Computer scientists implement computing systems in hardware and software.
  • Computer games designers require game theory, a branch of applied mathematics.
  • Forensic scientists use mathematics principles to figure out the location of items, when blood was shed and even the type of impact that caused injury.

The jobs of tomorrow will (likely) need maths

I don’t have a crystal ball and many of the jobs and hobbies people do today didn’t exist a generation ago, so I can only make an educated guess at the skills and knowledge that will be required for the future.

However, based on current trends we do know that to remain competitive in the workforce your son will need to be able to be creative, innovative, knowledgeable, and be able to solve complex problems. Recent studies, including a 2016 report by the University of Sydney, also suggest that around 75% of Australia’s fastest growing industries require science, technology, engineering and maths skills.

So next time your son is sitting in class wondering why he needs to learn about dividing decimals or fractions, or how y=mx+c relates to linear graphs, I hope he chooses to develop his numeracy skills for the benefit of his future, and for the not yet existent, exciting, world-changing careers that are still to come. Maths is one of the most powerful tools he can get his hands on in preparation.

Katie White is a Year 7 & 8 mathematics teacher at Brighton Grammar, an all-boys school in Melbourne. This article is about