I stroll through the Internet looking for interesting articles on maths or numbers or education.   Occasionally I come across separate articles that have no direct link to each other, but they reinforce each other’s message.

The first was from the Science Daily on 10 Feb 12.   (http://www.sciencedaily.com)

Numeracy: The Educational Gift That Keeps On Giving?

Cancer risks. Investment alternatives. Calories. Numbers are everywhere in daily life, and they figure into all sorts of decisions. A new article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, examines how people who are numerate — that’s like literacy, but for numbers — understand numbers better and process information differently so that they ultimately make more informed decisions.

People who are numerate are more comfortable thinking about numbers and are less influenced by other information, says Ellen Peters of Ohio State University, the author of the new paper. For example, in one of Peters’s studies, students were asked to rate undergraduates who received what looked like different test scores. Numerate people were more likely to see a person who got 74% correct and a person who got 26% incorrect as equivalent, while people who were less numerate thought people were doing better if their score was given in terms of a percent correct.

People make decisions based on this sort of information all the time. For example, “A lot of people take medications,” Peters says. Every drug has benefits and potential risks, and those can be presented in different ways. “You can talk about the 10 percent of the population that gets the side effect or the 90 percent that does not.” How you talk about it will influence how dangerous the drug seems to be, particularly among people who are less numerate.

Other research has shown that only less numerate people respond differently to something that has a 1 in 100 chance of happening than something that has a 1 percent chance of happening. The less numerate see more risk in the 1 in 100 chance — even though these numbers are exactly the same. This has implications for how policy makers and others should communicate about the risks of medicines, earthquakes, climate change, and the stock market.

“Numbers are really just abstract symbols, and we have to bring meaning to them somehow,” Peters says. Think of all the very different ideas that can go with the number nine: 9°F, $9 billion, and a 9 percent chance of a tsunami. “In general, people who are numerate are better able to bring consistent meaning to numbers and to make better decisions,” Peters says. “It suggests that courses in math and statistics may be the educational gift that keeps on giving.”

The above article was written by an American for an American site but the problems of the understanding of numbers doesn’t seem to be restricted to just the USA.

The following article was published in The Sun newspaper on 13 Feb 12.   By Kevin Schofield. http://www.thesun.co.uk.

TENS of thousands of pupils are leaving primary school with the maths ability of a seven-year-old.

The shock findings were revealed in an analysis of last year’s SATs results.

They showed that 27,500 11-year-olds are going on to secondary school with the numeracy skills of kids four years their junior. That is a staggering one in 20 of the total.

Boys perform worse than girls, with 15,600 lagging well behind.

Separate figures published two weeks ago also revealed that one in three GCSE pupils fail to get at least a C in maths.

Critics said the figures showed how Labour had wasted billions of pounds on education spending.

A Government source said: “After 13 years of Labour, too many children are failing at maths.

“Employers and universities complain about the quality of our children’s maths. We have to put right Labour’s failure.” Former Countdown star Carol Vorderman has called for pupils to be made to study maths until they leave school at 18.

In a report, she said 22 per cent of pupils aged 16 to 19 are “functionally innumerate” — meaning they have no basic grasp of maths and arithmetic.

It emerged last year that barely half of trainee maths teachers have a top degree in the subject.

And Education Secretary Michael Gove wants to see a greater focus on traditional subjects in a bid to improve standards.

He has also announced plans to open specialist maths schools for the brightest teenagers.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We’re reforming GCSEs, A levels and the maths curriculum to make sure our children are prepared for the modern competitive world.”


Two separate stories from different parts of the world with basically the same theme, maths and numeracy are vital subjects in today’s education system, and we are letting our children down in regards to their numeracy skills.


I read through some of the comments left on the Sun article and one stood out because it is so obviously true. Unfortunately a lot of parents don’t follow this parent’s lead.

“It can’t all be down to the teachers can it? I have 4 children who are 2, 10, 12 & 13.   They are all very good at maths (to name but one).   My 12 & 13 year olds are likely to be sitting their GCSEs early, even my 2 year old can easily count to 30.   Surely parenting plays a part too?   I have always counted etc with mine from a young age.   If you don’t spend time doing the basics how can they possibly learn?   I am aware that all children have a different academic level but surely it starts at home and the teachers should continue from where the parents have started!”

Where do you think the blame lies?   Government, teacher, or parent.