Science

Mathematics: medals but no weapons, French paradox

In this respect, it would be a false paradox with erroneous premises leading to a real contradiction: in France, the teaching of mathematics is a well-oiled military machine for the training of elites. 2022 again brilliantly demonstrated this with the Nobel Prize (in physics), the Fields Medal and the presence of 36 French laboratories in the top hundred of the Shanghai international ranking (Paris-Saclay takes the first place). And upon arrival, despite this superiority, our country is “extremely short of hands,” according to Stephane Jaffard, CNRS research fellow and organizer of the mathematical jury, which is held at UNESCO from 14 to 16 November. Nearly 18% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 3.3 million paid jobs depend on mathematics.” IT, research and development, power generation, telecommunications, healthcare, as well as finance, trade, construction, etc.

The French have a strained relationship with mathematics

All of these fields are experiencing explosive growth and there is a risk of shortages: “94% of math PhDs find work one year after graduation,” emphasizes Christophe Bess, director of the National Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and their interaction with CNRS. Therefore, it is extremely important not to raise the level, but to return the taste for equations to students and students who are massively abandoning this discipline. “Most people have a frustrated relationship with her because they go through too formal training where the playful and creative aspect needs to be emphasized,” pleads Hugo Duminil-Copen, winner of the 2022 Fields Medal. And add: “However, mathematics provides the necessary skills in everyday life.” This Sunday, November 13, the Ministry of Public Education also announced the return of “compulsory” mathematics education from the beginning of the 2023 academic year for all high school students from the first grade, thus establishing one of the most controversial measures of the Blanker reform.

Companies and universities don’t talk to each other

Since everything is just arithmetic, to improve the situation, first of all, it is necessary to increase the number of teaching research positions, which decreased by 8% (especially in the field of fundamental mathematics) between 2000 and 2020, even when demand within companies increased dramatically: “ We met a lot of bosses who said they couldn’t find the know-how,” Stéphane Jaffard assures. The more teachers, the more trained students, and hence the more graduates.

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But there is another French feature that the entrepreneurial world does not discuss enough with universities: it is difficult, as is usually done in the United States, to forge partnerships between companies and laboratories; the latter also find it difficult to find interlocutors at the academic level. Hence the idea put forward at this conference to create regional mathematical centers to create these links. First of all, political power, often ill-prepared for research and science, must recognize the problem. Excellence makes it shine, but a shortage of mathematicians in the world of work could well see France lose its ability to innovate.

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