Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
For many of us, mathematics is an abstract world of formulas and equations that we remember only vaguely from school – a set of skills we learned to pass exams, but that have no bearing on our daily lives. In today’s world, however, math is everywhere.
In fact, there are few moments in our lives where we don’t use, interpret and communicate numbers, data and mathematical ideas – and we often do it without even noticing. We navigate between the real world and the mathematical world when we formulate a problem in mathematical terms in order to solve it with mathematical tools, or when we interpret solutions to real-world mathematical problems on our smartphone screens. We frequently need to reason mathematically, as well, using logic-based thought processes that explore and link pieces of information in ways that allow us to draw meaningful inferences.
The mechanics of math are becoming less important for humans … But a deep understanding of mathematical ideas and principles, and our capacity to think like mathematicians, are becoming more important.
Yet although math is one of the most enduring human tools and languages, some things have changed. The mechanics of math are becoming less important for humans, because computers are so much quicker and more accurate in carrying them out. If you don’t know how to calculate a logarithm, don’t worry, you won’t need to. But a deep understanding of mathematical ideas and principles, and our capacity to think like mathematicians, are becoming more important. Because without that capacity, we will be unable to navigate the data, numbers, graphs or diagrams around us. We can always find an expert to code an app, but if we lack the basic elements of computational thinking, we won’t understand the nature of the algorithms that now penetrate every facet of our lives.
Are we ready to face these challenges? That’s what the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) aims to find out. Since the release of its first results in 2000, PISA has provided a first-of-its kind way to determine whether young people are prepared for the modern world. And in 2021, we will introduce a new framework to test math in a way that more accurately reflects the role and nature of math in our world – a world in which technology and big data require us to use math creatively and critically, to make judgements for ourselves, and to look for solutions to the challenges that confront societies.
We will publicly present this framework on Monday, 14 October at Oxford University, so join me then for the presentation and panel discussion.
The PISA 2021 Mathematics Framework will be launched on 14 October at 15:00 GMT at Oxford University. Register here.