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Potential engineers hampered by schools' failure to teach algebra

RADICAL CHANGES in the teaching of maths in schools mean that students no longer get the grounding in algebra and geometry that engineers need, leading mathematicians have warned.

The changes have taken place following the introduction of the national curriculum in 1988.

In a report commissioned by engineering think tank the Arup Foundation, Professor Richard Noss and Phillip Kent of London University's Institute of Education say that maths education for engineering students is 'ripe for review'.

The study was sparked by last year's decision of the ICE's Joint Board of Moderators (JBM) to remove A level maths as a compulsory subject for entering a civil engineering degree. ICE Council is to debate the issue at its September meeting.

'Mathematical ability is absolutely essential in engineering. The report poses questions which need answering, such as what maths needs to be taught, how it should be taught and when it should be taught, ' said Arup director Richard Haryott.

The report says that weak skills in trigonometry and geometry make it more difficult for students to read drawings and conceptualise in three dimensions.

Algebraic skills - weak among many university entrants - were difficult to improve in a university setting yet were essential to engineers.

And the increased use of computers can 'make it possible to use mathematical ideas before understanding the techniques', the report concludes.


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