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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Educating actuaries

WHILE ON ANNUAL LEAVE IN KENYA THIS YEAR I WASgiven the opportunity of visiting a local villageschool to see the work our hotel had carried outat its guests’ expense. Of course, this request forfunding was packaged under the term ‘culturalvisit’; however, I was keen to see the school, sosigned up for a trip on the Tuesday morning, firstday back after the children’s long summerholiday.Tuesday’s visit was such a success that at 10amon Wednesday morning I stood in front of a classof 30 nine- to eleven-year-olds ready to takedouble maths. Algebraic substitution was on theagenda and I had spent most of the morningchecking that I could in fact complete the questionsset in the tatty textbook. I was particularlysceptical about question 2c (see below for anyoneinterested in just how bad my maths really is. Nocalculators allowed!).So applying my best presentation skills, off wewent. The lesson went smoothly. The childrenwere polite, attentive, and enthusiastic, despitesome of them having walked for two hours thatmorning just to get to class. The four teachers wereecstatic at the prospect of another adult on site toattend to the 250 children split between eight classesand, despite there being no food as the cook had calledin sick that day, we all had a jolly good time.So what on earth has this got to do with the actuarialprofession and being an actuary? I believe that theanswer is quite a lot.All I did in that hot, dusty classroom was apply skillsthat I had learned in my training as an actuary. We aretrained to communicate difficult, technical conceptsto ‘laymen’, which are exactly the skills required toteach. We are not all natural teachers, but surely thereis opportunity here for members of the profession tocontribute vital skills to the education and developmentof children and adults outside the actuarialprofession’s normal environment.Now, it is very likely that many of you reading thistook an active decision at some point in your life notto become a teacher. However, those of you who consideredit, even for a minute, should not rule out givingup some of your free time to this worthy cause.Many of you will have children and so already doyour fill of maths homework, others will take advantageof employer-run maths outreach programmes.However, for others it is difficult to find projects to getinvolved in. Red tape and police checks make it difficultto help out in local UK schools; however, oncethese have been overcome, spending an hour a monthteaching can be an inspiring and well worth the useof time out of the office. Further away from home,there are a number of charities that organise teachingopportunities abroad. The actuarial profession has a lot give to the worldof education. I also believe that actuaries have a lot tolearn from being involved in teaching individualsother than clients and colleagues. On top of this, thereal beneficiaries are the children, and adults, who willmarvel at your expertise, laugh at your inabilities, and,who knows, may even be inspired to become anactuary one day.None of this should come as a great revelation to anyof you. However, our ability to contribute in schoolsand colleges may be something that many of us forgetand so a gentle reminder every now and then shouldnot go amiss. Teaching is also a great profile-raiser forthe profession, not only as an advert for future actuaries,but to the future finance directors, politicians,and solicitors also sitting in the classes we teach andwitnessing our skills.Finally, for those of you struggling with question 2c,I have this to say. One quiet girl in that Kenyan classroomhad no problems achieving the right answer. Shedid this, managing to work out the rule to manipulateand simplify fractions herself, in about half the timeit took me. How can we, as a profession, ensure thatchildren like this have the opportunity to pursue acareer as an actuary? Or is it better that she stays ignorantof opportunity so not to be disappointed if herdreams can not be fulfilled. This is a big debate, butone we should not be scared of.

Question 2c:If x = 9/2 and y = 3/7, find and simplify (3x + 5y)/(6y-x)