We should teach more statistics & probability and earlier while we should teach less calculus and later.
Arthur Benjamin is a mathematician and in his pithy TED Talk, Formula for Changing Math Education (2009), he calls for this re-emphasis of math education. He argues that we as a society would greatly benefit from a better understanding of statistics and probabilities which would help us make better decisions about risks, rewards, randomness, and understanding and evaluating data in our everyday lives.
Take for example, few of us would use calculus on a daily bases but most of us are faced with making decisions about car insurance plans, student loans, mortgage rates, credit card interest rates, payment plan options, interpreting polls, planning our income investments and expenses, making decisions about bank loans and interest rates, stock market investments, interpreting results from scientific studies, analyzing trends, predicting the future, gambling, and so forth. This is just a short list I came up in the three minutes I watched Arthur’s presentation and I think it is fairly obvious that some of these are be very serious decisions that can have long lasting effects on our lives. They can mean the difference between unmanageable dept and a financially healthy lifestyle. And since education is supposed to prepare us for making the best possible decisions about our own lives, I think it only makes sense to include more of such important foundations for sound reasoning such as those that come with understanding statistics and probabilities.
I don’t know about the education you had but mine has not covered statistics or probabilities in any applicable way to the everyday life, nor do I know of any that does (please let me know if you do). The closest it got was in college and that was more geared towards understanding and conducting research, which isn’t necessarily everyday stuff. I think statistics and probabilities are one of the big missing ingredients of both primary and secondary education systems and should be a required educational component. And teaching these shouldn’t be too difficult since the very same reasons that make it so relevant can also make it easy and fun to teach to children.
Here is Arthur Benjamin’s other TED Talk appearance but this time as a Mathemagician titled Lightning calculation and other “Mathemagic”
Benjamin, A. (Speaker). (2009, February). Arthur Benjamin’s formula for changing math education [Video]. TED Conferences. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhMKmovNjvc
Benjamin, A. (Speaker). (2010, February). Lightning calculation and other “Mathemagic” [Video]. TED Conferences. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4vqr3_ROIk