Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Time for a change

Yesterday, our Spanish teacher alluded to the quirkiness of the British. Initially, he was talking about the way that Britain cannot decide whether it wants to be part of Europe or not. As he pointed out, successive governments seem to change their minds about this important issue.

It is not just belonging or not to Europe though that sets Britain apart from the rest of the continent. In many other ways, Britain stands on its own; Brits drive on the wrong side of the road, the electricity plugs and light bulbs are different to the rest of Europe and most important, the country still uses a strange mixture of imperial and metric units. Oh yes and let’s not forget the currency! Stubborn refusal to adopt the Euro costs British business a fortune.

Having both systems of measurement in use has caused a lot of problems for schools who moved to teaching metric units a good few years ago. Now they are told that they must improve children’s understanding of the old imperial units because they are still used widely on roads, to measure height and for basic goods like milk. That means that children will have the daunting task of learning complicated conversions between e.g. miles and kilometres. Why - just to be different for difference sake?


Bill said...
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Bill said...

Well, very interesting and all, but there is that other little country across the pond that persists in using Imperial units (although they call them 'American Standard'). I think it is useful for children to be taught mental dexterity with numbers. It is not just 'to be different'. The metric system is indeed very logical though. However, whilst I know perfectly well the conversion factor between an inch and a centimetre (or a yard and a metre), I use the two systems for different things - for example I may think now of temperatures in Celsius (although I still know what the approximate equivalents in Fahrenheit are - useful when visiting the US, too), I use inches for trouser sizes - I have no idea what size of waist or length I need in centimetres. Apart from anything else I think it is useful for kids to be brought up to know a little mental arithmetic, even if they will mostly use a calculator, as do I - but they need to know the principles behind how the calculator spews out its answers, not just regard it as some 'magic box' that always gives the correct answer. That's what this is really about - not about petty differences between measurement systems.

And yes, I do recall that the Hubble telescope was initially a disaster because of confusion between metric and imperial measurements.

Happy New Year :)