Poor numeracy ‘blights the economy and ruins lives’

Judith Burns:

Poor numeracy is blighting Britain’s economic performance and ruining lives, says a new charity launched to champion better maths skills.
The group, National Numeracy, says millions of people struggle to understand a payslip or a train timetable, or pay a household bill.
It wants to challenge a mindset which views poor numeracy as a “badge of honour”.
It aims to emulate the success of the National Literacy Trust.


2 thoughts on “Poor numeracy ‘blights the economy and ruins lives’”

  1. Ms Vorderman talks about how singularly British it is to sort of toss out there, casually, “Oh, yes. I’m terrible at maths,” as if it is amusing. That is something we hear all the time here in the US too. I especially hear women – in every occupation – say things like, “Oh, I hated math. Didn’t get it at all. But I never use it in my daily life, so it’s no big deal.” Yes, you can get by without it in many jobs, everyday. But should you? No. How do you know if a cash register is programmed right if you can’t do basic figuring about how much something should cost? What about whether or not you are being shortchanged in your paycheck? If someone can’t do basic calculations in their heads to at least tell if their estimate is close – do they have the decimal in the right place? – then they will get ripped off over and over. I honestly don’t know how many times I have gone to pay for something that costs, say, $7.78, with a ten dollar bill and three pennies and had the cashier just look at me like I grew another head. They have literally no idea why I would give them that amount of money in those denominations – I don’t want even more pennies jingling around in my pocket or purse.
    England and the US have one more way in which they are growing more and more similar, and not in a positive or advancing technology manner, but in a long-slow-slide manner.

  2. It is sad to hear arguments in favor of numeracy couched in terms of the need for paying bills, or reading a payslip, or understanding a train timetable. It is also sad to hear the argument in favor of math because we need more scientists and engineers, and that the high paying jobs will require it.
    These arguments are quite unimportant. If one is innumerate, one is uneducated, period. If one is not comfortable with math, you are not able to think coherently or rationally or accurately.
    Knowing math, of course, is not a guarantee of being educated, but it is a necessary condition. Necessary but not sufficient.
    The education field, and those whose opinions on these matters we read, illustrate innumeracy by their very arguments. Competing statistics coming to different conclusions show that. Discussions about test scores show that. Policy discussions in which proponents trot out numbers to support their positions show innumeracy.
    Being able to mechanically and accurately calculate, make change, etc, understand a payslip, etc does not make one numerate. Numeracy requires much more than that.
    It requires knowing how and how well reality maps into the numbers we use to represent it and how well the calculations we make with those numbers map back into reality and inform us.

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