It’s not easy being Maths,” a local newspaper called the Lutzen in the south of the country wrote last September, in an article on maths education. “It’s not difficult to be a player and not to win. In the end, if you don’t take the next step, then your education in maths will be forgotten.”
In the words of the paper’s authors, the problem is “not simply how to win but how to learn”.
They write: “There is always something else to do and it may be better than going to the school for mathematics.” Their advice is as clear as it is practical: “Only choose to learn mathematics if you have not yet learned the arts. And if you cannot even understand something, then learning mathematics is pointless.”
At the most elementary level, mathematics education has become part of the culture of Germany. The teaching of maths is a central institution, whether it’s a primary school or a university. In a country where the number of people studying in formal mathematics studies is almost zero, it’s easy to see how education can become detached from its material surroundings and take on a cultural and philosophical value.
In a blog for the German online journal Jugendstudierung that has been highly-recommended by maths academics, the writer Peter Häusler asks why Maths has become so popular. He writes: “Why is maths a German national treasure, one of the foundations of the German language, a subject so crucial for every citizen for whom it is important?”
This is a very good question, though the fact is that Germany is one of the most expensive countries in the world to do mathematics. In 2009 it was estimated that the price of a basic year in a maths course can be hundreds of €100 (NZ$157) for non-EU citizens, and an American graduate can expect to spend close to a year studying.
Students in Germany can afford their maths courses thanks to cheap living, but that money does not go directly to pay the teachers.
“We need some means to pay for the teacher,” explains the university student Kathrin Behrmeier at the University of Innsbruck, who was one of the leaders of a national project on teaching maths. “Most German academics in other disciplines do not have the salary for a full-time teacher.”
But there are other ways to pay to get the education that maths deserves. There are “in-kind” resources that can be donated to help
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