I recently opened my copy of the TES from 17th April (this is quite good for me, I normally have months worth of these stacked up which I finally open in the holidays…) and there was a short article with an interview with Dr Geoff Smith of the University of Bath.
I was lucky enough to have Geoff as a lecturer during my undergraduate, but in addition to being a university lecturer he is also the chairman of the British and International Maths Olympiads. In this role he meets many gifted young mathematicians, some of whom will have been pushed through the exam system quicker than their peers.
He makes the point that this is often not for the best, and that students often look back on it as a mistake. Instead, he says that students need to be given extended problems that build on the mathematics they learn and school and goes onto to say
“… There’s so much worthwhile mathematics to keep them happy and busy while their bodies turn into adults. School maths barely scratches the surface.”
I definitely agree with this, but I think there needs to be some kind of central provision for students like this. Some schools may not have teachers who are confident enough with off syllabus mathematics to provide these kind of problems and further exploration. There are so many great resources out there that council wide “clubs” could use. I know we have the Royal Institution Masterclasses for the younger students, but to me there seems ot be little for the older top ability (not necessarily IMO candidates) students where there isnt’ a financial cost to them.
Sue Pope also makes the point in this this article that rushing students through could result in an “understanding of mathematics may end up somewhat fragile”.
Finally, thefollowing quotes from Geoff Smith made me laugh:
“Someone with a short attention span shouldn’t enter this profession”, “Someone who isn’t obsessive shouldn’t go into pure mathematics”
I can see this, I can certainly be obsessive, but I’m not convinced I’m obsessive enough about one particular thing to go back into Mathematics research. To get into a successful academic post, it seems ot me that lots of sacrifices need to be made – short term contracts, willingness to move around a lot etc.