Mathematics: An Inclusive Language of the Universe for Everyone

Through real-world examples and personal experience, Ms Ezeakum argues that, with practice and dedication, anyone can harness the universal language of mathematics.

Illustration by Tristan Barnard

Mathematics is a term we hear often when someone is referring to complexities involving numbers and calculations to solve an equation or equate variables and/or constants. This is true, but mathematics is broader and more useful than the parameters and context we often hear it in. It is embedded in any and everything that we do, in all aspects of life, and is used by everyone, knowingly and unknowingly. The omni-presence of mathematics further reinforces the idea that mathematics is for everyone. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mathematics is the abstract science of number, quantity, and space, either as abstract concepts (pure mathematics), or as applied to other disciplines such as physics and engineering (applied mathematics). According to the theme of the 2023 International Day of Mathematics, everyone has mathematical ability. In this text, we will discuss the validity of the statement that mathematics is for everyone.

Let us look at how mathematics can be applied in a non-academic and everyday aspect. Take for instance deciding what route to take when travelling a long distance; you would probably prefer to take the shortest route that will get them to the destination quicker to save time and save petrol, which in turn saves money on the total petrol cost. This is a use of mathematics by calculating for optimization, which is a skill that can be learnt. Another more common example is tracking how many steps you take in a day, using a phone or smartwatch as a device of measurement, which is also an application of mathematics. You can also use mathematics by estimating how much mass you can carry for a certain amount of time until you start to get tired; for instance, carrying a 5-liter bottle of water will result in weariness for different people of different masses over a certain distance, and your limits can be figured out either by trial and error or by estimation and analysis. This is another involuntary, yet non-academic use of mathematics that anyone can assess, further proving that mathematics indeed is for everyone. Other examples include:

  • money management, in terms of how much one would need to save to get through the month;
  • probability in terms of estimating how badly it will rain by observing the weather and making a decision on what clothes to wear or if they should stay in or go out;
  • estimating how much space is needed to fit something into the boot of a car; and
  • counting in general. Further applications include activities as simple as preparing food (deciding what temperature the oven should be on and the meal prep time), understanding sports, and simply telling time.

Recent scientific studies show that everyone is born with the innate mathematical ability to perform at least basic mathematical calculations. With a good foundation in the fundamentals of mathematics, it is possible, with a great amount of practice and dedication, for anyone to be able to understand the complex and professional use of mathematics as well as in academic fields. Mathematics builds on itself, and with constant use of it in everyday life, one can get better at it and not worse. Mathematics itself is seen in many different ways by people as people use it for many different things in various ways. At the end of the day, 1 + 1 will equal 2 for everyone across the globe no matter what anyone says and this is what mathematics is all about; it is for you and it will always be even if you are not a professional mathematician.

Illustration by Liani Malherbe

Mathematics is the language of the universe, and as with any other language, everyone has the capacity to learn it. It provides an effective way of building mental discipline and encourages logical reasoning and mental rigor; in addition, mathematical knowledge plays a crucial role in understanding the contents of other school subjects such as science, social studies and even music and art. An anecdotal experience is that I was not very good at mathematics in primary and high school because I lacked the basic foundations that I needed to understand it properly. This left me feeling that it might not be for me, even though I knew I loved it. My love for mathematics encouraged me to practice every day, and build this foundation in order to be good at what I love, and through hard work and dedication I came out with outstanding results and am now a mathematics major in a top university (Stellenbosch University). This is to show you that anyone can be proficient in mathematics, as it is all around us and in constant use in all aspects of life. You just need to practice for proficiency because practice makes perfect!

Mathematics should be for everyone because, even though the involuntary basics are important, in the ever-so-changing technological world we live in, it is becoming even more crucial to be mathematically inclined. Complex mathematics as we view it today will form the basics of what needs to be known in the near future, and you do not want to miss out. Performing complex calculations will become as necessary as knowing how to read. This in turn would mean people who view mathematics as “only for geniuses” or “too difficult for them” should start to approach it in a more intrepid and tenacious way.

Mathematics is the past, present and the future, and will always be relevant, so it is better to believe and accept that it is for you, rather than not and be left out of the loop. This text has proven that everyone uses mathematics in one way or the other, academically and non-academically, professionally and colloquially, and generally every day. A better form of teaching mathematics should be introduced in the future so that it is more inclusive to diverse group, and to destigmatize that mathematics is only for certain individuals. This will ensure and reinforce that it is indeed for everyone.

Terry-Leigh Ezeakum

Student. Mathematical Sciences (Focal area: Applied Mathematics)

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