Actually, anyone can do Maths

William Marais explains how mathematics is for everyone, and should be seen as an inclusive, community undertaking.

Illustration by Tristan Barnard

Mathematics should be for everyone. Mathematics has the reputation for being daunting and difficult, and inaccessible to those who weren’t born “Mathematically gifted”, leading most of us to believe that Mathematics is only for the “geniuses” among us or those with a natural talent in the subject. But the fact that often alludes us is that Mathematics is for everyone!

Maths is used everywhere every day in our lives without us even realising it. From counting coins to save up for a new skateboard to measuring ingredients for a recipe, maths is a fundamental system we can all grasp to some extent, even if we feel like we aren’t capable, we still possess a basic underlying understanding of maths that can be built upon with practice.

The idea that some people are born with a “mathematical mind” is a myth. While it is true that some individuals may find maths more accessible and easier to learn than others, there is no inherent genetic or biological factor that determines one’s ability to learn maths. Our brains are highly adaptable and capable of changing in response to learning and experience, which means that all of us are capable of improvement in our mathematical abilities with hard work and time.

In maths there is a vast variety of way to perceive a problem, each person perceives in a different way and has their own strengths and weaknesses, some people may posess an incredible aptitude for arithmetic and calculation, while others my exhibit a proclivity for problem-solving. By recognizing these differences, we can make the maths community more inviting and inclusive.

The way maths is currently and has always been taught emphasises memorization and formulaic procedures, which can make the subject feel vastly disconnected to a person’s life and their real-world problems. This approach makes maths feel dry and one-dimensional which often spurs distain for it especially among those who don’t have a natural aptitude for it. However, maths has many real-world applications through various disciplines and everyday jobs. By highlighting practical real-world examples to illustrate mathematical concepts teachers can make maths more engaging and relevant to student in all walks of life.

Societal and cultural factors can also impact a person’s perception of their own mathematical ability. Socio-economic stereotypes and biases continue to affect performance and motivation for maths especially in underrepresented groups and minorities. In our history, mathematics was for the elites and scholars, but as we progress to a better future, it is important to promote a more inclusive and diverse mathematical community that values and respects the unique perspectives of all its individuals. By overcoming these barriers we can empower people with the skills necessary to thrive in today’s complex and data-driven world.

Maths is a subject that is for, and made by everyone. We all need maths whether we realise it or not, it is a necessary skill that we improve with practice and learning. By recognising that we all have an inherent mathematical ability that we can express in various different ways of thinking, highlighting real-world practical applications and building an inclusive and diverse community, we can empower people to thrive in today’s world. Maths should not be seen as the subject that is “boring” and “hard” and only for those who “can” do it but rather as an essential skill that is necessary for today’s world and a skill that we can all do, no matter where we come from, no matter who we are. Maths was built by us for us.  Anyone can do maths.

William Marais

2nd Year BSc Computer Science student Stellenbosch University

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