The culture of numbers



Everything is number and math is everywhere. Algorithms govern our lives, statistics guide our collective choices, artificial intelligence is becoming an interlocutor like any other. The digital revolution is underway. And yet, for the past two years, it has been possible to pass a general baccalaureate without taking any mathematics courses in first and final year. In 2019, the discipline disappeared from the common core curriculum. It has become a speciality, the level of which is particularly high, chosen by the most motivated or the most gifted. As a predictable consequence, the number of students exposed to math instruction has dropped drastically: only 37% in the last year of high school. The decline is even more marked among girls, who have largely turned away from this subject.

The announcement of the Minister of Education this weekend is therefore welcome. Jean-Michel Blanquer says he is ready to correct his reform, by reintroducing a dose of math into the common core. A matter of culture, he said. That’s the right word: you can’t claim to understand the world or share quantified diagnoses without a minimum mathematical background. Difficult to discuss public health if we do not master the notion of incidence rate. However, intention is not enough. The other side of the problem is the shortage of math teachers – one hundred open positions at Capes unfilled last year. This worrying disaffection must be tackled without delay, by reviving the attraction for the discipline. And by sweeping away the vain opposition between mathematicians and literary people. The French spirit is, it is said, an alloy of finesse and geometry.

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