So the pedestrian bridge under construction across the M1 highway on Grayston in Sandton collapsed yesterday, falling on at least one car killing two people and injuring 22. This is tragic and our condolences to the families of all those who lost their lives. My first reaction to the news was, how can this happen in 2015!? Who led this project? What and where did they study? I ask this because not so long ago I had a conversation with some young people who argued that we must stop talking about mathematics and its importance because there are other important subjects that we must encourage students to take. The young person angrily asked me why is mathematics more important and why should we worry that we have too few people who study it. In my explanation to him about why mathematics is important for society I pulled him to my office window and asked to look at our road infra-structure. I asked him what he thought it takes to build the bridges that he was seeing. I also asked him who he thinks will build those bridges if we do not encourage more students to study mathematics. For the student our conversation was about the inequity of disciplines, while for me our conversation was about the future of our country and our nation.
We need bridges and therefore we need mathematics – high quality mathematics teaching that can produce excellent mathematicians, scientists, engineers and technical experts who can do a good job with building bridges. What happened yesterday with the collapse of the Grayston Bridge is just a small reminder that, quality mathematics teaching and learning is a matter of life and death.
Bridges serve one basic purpose that of connecting two points that are otherwise disconnected and not so easy to access. They generally provide the shortest distance between the two points. The art and science of constructing bridges rely heavily on the mathematics as well as the physics of stress and load. Some of the prevailing factors that influence the designs and types of bridges include the intended use and users, the available construction materials, environmental conditions, cost, adequate manpower, the length of the bridge, present and projected traffic load, the free height under the bridge, aesthetic considerations and the available technology.
We know the name of the company tasked with the construction of the bridge. My question is who are the individual experts who led the project? What and where did they study and can they explain to us what went wrong so we learn from this experience?
I also hope that mathematics teachers use this incident as an opportunity to teach