Is maths a victim of its own success?


40-50 years ago, if you knew enough maths to be able to teach, say, calculus and basic probability theory, and you weren't considering an academic pathway, then becoming a teacher was a pretty attractive prospect. Essentially, the alternative was to become an actuary. So plenty of people who really knew maths became maths teachers. More recently, first the finance industry, quickly followed by tech, have become veritable sponges of graduate maths talent. The result? Fewer people who really know maths becoming maths teachers. So just as demand for higher maths skills is escalating, the talent going into teaching the crucial foundations for those skills is declining! The penny dropped for me as I watched this Numberphile interview with Jim Simons. 


Simons, born 1938, is one of the mathematicians responsible for the famous Chern-Simons forms in geometry. In 1978, he retired as an academic mathematician to focus on applying maths to making money. He founded the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies in 1982, from which he retired in 2009 as a multi-billionaire. Today, his Simons Foundation is one of the major philanthropic supporters of research in mathematics and basic science as well as numerous educational initiatives.

Andrew JacobsComment