It’s not a secret that a popular software company offer their employees a percentage of time to contribute to the project of their wish. I think most people when they are asked the question “how would you spend that time?” would answer: “I’d contribute to this X new project,” “I’d add this Y feature to this Z project”…
They are all very good options that will impact millions of people around the world. But what if we want to impact the future generations of consumers, or even more, the future of computing? I would use that time to improve education. Recent studies report that nowadays not many people are choosing Computer Science as a major, especially in the U.S. This is a serious problem that caught the attention of many well-known people, like Bill Gates. Indeed, if we want to progress in this digital era, we need qualified and creative engineers that are prepared to invent and develop the “next big thing”. How could we generate more interest around Computer Science and, consequently, increase competitiveness? By changing the way Mathematics and, in general, exact sciences are taught in high school.
I don’t know about each country and school in the world, but Mathematics in high school tends to be a subject about calculating things: One of the most prominent goals is that you are able to solve things like a complicated integral without the slightest error. You don’t even need to know what an integral is, and why integrals are important. Of course, calculating is also important and cannot be ignored, but now computers can do this kind of computations in less time, and without a single mistake. Moreover, computers are now able to solve the trickiest differential equations, but this cannot avoid the fact that we don’t know how to model some important “real world” problems in the form of differential equations.
That’s the point I’d like to make. We need to focus the teaching of Mathematics around problem-solving skills. Once we’ve modeled a problem, then use a computer or cloud computing service to get the exact answer. Problem-solving skills are not only essential for engineers, they are useful for professionals in general in their everyday activities. Consequently, I believe that with this change of mentality Engineering would appeal more to students, there would be less drop-outs after the first year, and there would be more opportunities to success in this field.
What do you think? Do you also think that the method of teaching Mathematics at pre-university level is becoming obsolete? How would you foster creativity and innovation to keep up with the world as it is now?