A hundred years ago most professions needed no more than a mastery of the four rules of number. A bookkeeper, for example, needed to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Naturally a bridge builder needed to be able to understand stresses and angles – but did not have access to the comprehensive tools available today.
We only have to see our doctor in action. After you have been greeted, and you are sitting comfortably, the doctor does not look down at your card – but scrolls back through your last few visits on the screen. Your prescription comes from a pull down list and is printed out there and then. The doctor only needs to put a signature.
But think of the host of variables involved in the logistics of the approaching Olympics. Clearing the ground, burying the cables, building the various sites, developing housing, improving the transport systems all require complex calculations.
Behind every one of the aspects of this truly massive project is a team of programmers. Does any one care if they can add, subtract, multiply and divide? Their computers can do the calculations. The programmers, however, do need to be able to think.
It may be that the mathematics we are expecting our eleven plus children to master is antiquated. We know that key elements of mathematics need to be taught. What we are not sure of is what mathematics needs to be taught to cater for the new generations of leaders and thinkers. Logarithms, for example, were introduced over three hundred years. They were taught as an important tool for calculation. Logs certainly play no part in maths syllabuses today.
When we ask our children to analyse and solve a problem, on an eleven plus mathematics paper, we are demanding that they use mathematics knowledge that they have learnt. But we are not insisting that our children are required to apply original thought.
Future generations setting eleven plus papers may need to think again about the type of children who they want to pass eleven plus examinations. We may need to develop children who can think. This could be a real challenge.