Why maths isn’t the most important subject

By David Starshaw–Mathematics Teacher–High School

I don’t believe that maths is the most important subject and I want to explain why below. There are also links to a great video and quiz at the end of this article. The quiz is quite confronting but the video contains an important message for everyone to hear.

On one hand, yes, maths is everywhere. It makes your computer work, it drives your car, it underpins the internet, helps people and governments spend their money wisely, it enables data-mining companies to predict your behaviour, it can be used to influence the results of elections and referendums, and it can be used to pass level 3 NCEA.

But while maths makes your computer work, you don’t need to understand the maths in order to use your computer. Only specific professions use high school maths in the real world. Be honest, how many times have you used quadratics since leaving school?

But I believe that the misuse of data is one of the biggest issues in today’s society. And it is allowed to happen because we all have misconceptions about the world that we believe, rather than the reality. I don’t think I’m overstating this. Look at Trump. Look at Brexit. Look at the rise of echo chambers where people can redefine their realities and warp the facts beyond all recognition. Did you know that most people overestimate the proportion of their country’s population who are immigrants? Did you know most people overestimate the wealth held by the richest 1%? It is the stories that we tell ourselves, rather than reality, that define our world view.

Most people are unaware that we have brought extreme poverty crashing down. In the last 50 years, poverty has reduced to 50% of what it was. In the words of the late Hans Rosling, “People say that we cannot solve poverty. Of course they think so. They don’t even know what has already happened! The first thing to think about the future is to know about the present.”

I think therefore that statistics is the most important subject at high school. And also the humanities subjects.

How many misconceptions do you think you have? Watch Hans Rosling’s TED talk: How Not To Be Ignorant About The World and take the Gapminder Global Knowledge Test he mentions. I assure you it’s quite confronting.