I dropped out of college and couldn’t do basic math – I went back and learned how at age 65

I’ve always struggled with math – I’m sure I’m not alone.

At school I knew it wasn’t for me. The numbers and symbols went right over my head, so I sat in the back of the class and messed around with my friends.

In year eight, at the age of 13, I vividly remember getting 15% on a maths exam and being glad I had no grades at all.

I sauntered around, a bit of a boy, boasting that no one could get lower grades than me.

Now, at age 67, after going back to college to learn math, there was no other way.

Growing up I shunned anything technical – preferring English, history and geography, eventually going to University to study English.

I figured since math and I just didn’t click, I’d never go back to it. There was no point in trying to learn for me – I thought I would never be good at it.

In my working life I managed almost without maths – to reach the top of my profession, as an area manager at Westminster Careers Service. It was only then that I regretted not paying attention in school – suddenly dealing with budgets and spreadsheets was really overwhelming.

I panicked, my mind went blank and resorted to rushing to buy a “Teach Yourself Maths” book.

I have to admit – I was math-phobic.

Growing up I shunned anything technical (Photo: Paul Duggan)

At work, I always tried to avoid anything involving numbers. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to draw attention to myself because I didn’t know something as simple as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

I knew I had to do something about it. But as with anything else that’s hard, it ended up at the bottom of the list – and kept getting postponed.

It wasn’t until my daughter Rebecca was born in 2009, that the penny dropped. I had the sober realize that she would also get scared of grades if I didn’t do anything, and that I wouldn’t be able to help her with her homework – something I really wanted to do as a father.

In the fall of 2019, I enrolled in a Skills for Life course, offering evening classes at my local university. I did one night a week, for three hours over the course of a school term – about 13 weeks.

Everyone else was in their 20s and 30s, so at 65 I was the oldest there. But the teacher was great, and no one batted an eyelid – especially since I turned out to be pretty good!

Initially, we learned simple math, up to and including GCSE level – including fractions, decimals, percentages and geometry. It was daunting at first and it was easy to get frustrated after making mistakes, but I was determined.

I wanted to do my best for my daughter.

In March 2020, when the pandemic moved both my course and my daughter’s school online, I started teaching her the math syllabus – helping her with her homework and giving her more assignments.

Rebecca even got ‘Mathematician of the term’ in school (Photo: Paul Duggan)

Since then, Rebecca has realized that I really like math and that I’m good at it – to her that’s an advantage.

Since returning to school, her love of the craft has been her success. She uses it to challenge and inspire herself, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

Last trimester, in year eight, she even got ‘Mathematician of the term’ in school and scored 90% in a test. A far cry for a measly 15% of me in the same year! Moreover, she even talks about a medical examination career, at. She is confident, motivated and the pride I feel is incomparable.

Due to delays due to the pandemic, I took my final exam in December 2020 and passed the equivalent of a GCSE grade C in Mathematics. I took the Edexcel Functional Skills in Mathematics Level 2 course.

Looking back now, I think fear of math probably held me back. It narrowed my chances in my work life and career – but I don’t regret knowing that my daughter can do it and achieve anything if she wants to.

We bond over our love of numbers, and that’s something really special.

In fact, in January 2022, I became a volunteer classroom assistant at my local community learning center, The Ideas Store in Whitechapel – something I had never dreamed of doing. In fact, I think if I paid attention when I was younger I would have loved to be a mathematician lecturer. Who knows I might still do it!

For me, there’s no denying that going back to college in my later years has been truly transformative.

Having learned math in my 60s, I’m proof that it’s never too late to learn something new. It’s not your age that stands in the way, but your motivation.

Trust me, it can be as simple as one, two, three.

For more information about Skills For Life and the range of free courses available to you, visit their website here.

Age is just a number

Welcome to Age is just a number, one Metro.nl series that aims to show that when it comes to living your life, achieving your dreams and being who you want to be, the date on your birth certificate means nothing.

Each week, prepare to meet amazing people doing stereotype-defying things, at all stages of life.

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