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5

D R A G O N S T O D AY S U MM E R 2 0 1 6

M AT H E M AT I C A L D R A G O N S

As the great and legendary Liverpool

manager, Bill Shankly once said, “The

main thing is always to make sure that

the main thing is the main thing.”

So – this is the main thing. And, as

Headmaster of one of the country’s

foremost schools, I’m going out on a

limb here…

Our children don’t need more school.

They need more play.

At a time when the government is

advocating longer school days and

longer working terms, educators in East

Asian nations have increasingly been

acknowledging the massive failure of

their educational systems. According

to the scholar and author Yong Zhao,

who is an expert on schools in China, a

common Chinese term used to refer to

the products of their schools is gaofen

dineng, which essentially means good at

tests but bad at everything else.

FROM THE

HEADMASTER

planning a holiday, finding the ‘average’

child, code breaking and economics.

All children are also given the opportunity

to participate in the Primary Maths

Challenge (PMC), a national competition.

Those who show a particular aptitude

for Maths have a go at more difficult

challenges, usually aimed at children

older than they are, including the Junior

Maths Challenge (JMC) and Intermediate

Maths Challenge (IMC). Typically we

have a handful of children each year

who do outstandingly well on the IMC

which qualifies them for a further test (a

mathematics ‘Olympiad’), putting them

well into the top 1% of mathematicians of

their age in the country.

The curriculum is written in such a way

that a child who show great interest and

aptitude in the subject can explore ideas

in great depth, go “off piste” and learn

other areas of Maths that will not be tested

at Common Entrance, and to follow their

own lines of enquiry

“Every child is given the opportunity

to succeed. All children have access to

extension material irrespective of the

group they are in and they are all given

the opportunity to solve problems,”

explains Emily.

Parents might like to try this typical

example of a Maths problem that Dragon

children are given:

What are the last two

digits of 2

?

Answer: This only requires very basic prior

mathematical knowledge – that an index

number (the ‘power’) tells you how many

times a number is multiplying by itself (for

example 4 =4×4×4). In class, children are

not expected to calculate the answer to

2 but to use logical reasoning to deduce

their conclusion. They need to simplify

the problem, work logically, record their

ideas in such a way that they can spot

patterns, then make hypotheses, test them

and draw conclusions (generalise). They

then explain their answers, which is on

of the key ways children gain greater

mathematical understanding.

2

2016

3

2

2016

Because students spend nearly all

their time studying, they have little

opportunity to be creative, discover or

pursue their own passions, or develop

physical and social skills. Moreover,

as revealed by a survey conducted

by British and Chinese researchers,

these schoolchildren suffer from

extraordinarily high levels of anxiety,

depression and psychosomatic stress

disorders, which appear to be linked to

academic pressures and lack of play.

We can see the same trends emerging in

the UK. If we care about our children,

we must reverse the appalling trend

that has been occurring over the past

half century. We must give childhood

back to children. Children must be

allowed to follow their inborn drives to

play and explore, so they can grow into

intellectually, socially, emotionally and

physically strong and resilient adults.

It used to be – when I was at school - that

children were contained in school and

roamed free when the bell rang at the

end of the day. In my case, I roamed

for miles with my friends in the hills

of south west Uganda at Kabale. We

climbed trees, built dams and camps,

chased snakes – were chased by snakes,

poked hornets’ nests, waded in rivers and

swam in lakes. I returned home at the

end of each day - dirty and dishevelled

– happy in the knowledge that the

following day, I could do it all again.

These days, outside school, children

are more shut in, more isolated. For

many children, school provides the

only public space where they are free to

make their own choices. A school must,

more than ever, be the place where

children discover and find themselves

and the Dragon, with its ethos of ordered

freedom, is the perfect place for this

to happen.

John Baugh