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Is Poor Numeracy Ruining Lives?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the mainly-restaurant-servers-lives dept.

Math 489

Hugh Pickens writes "The BBC reports on how millions of people struggle to understand a payslip or a train timetable, or pay a household bill. Government figures show that almost half the working population of England have only primary school math skills, and research suggests that weak math skills are linked with an array of poor life outcomes such as prison, unemployment, exclusion from school, poverty and long-term illness. 'We are paying for this in our science, technology and engineering industries but also in people's own ability to earn funds and manage their lives,' says Chris Humphries. He is the chairman of National Numeracy, an organization seeking to emulate the success of the National Literacy Trust, which has helped improve reading and writing standards since it was set up nearly 20 years ago. The Department for Education wants the vast majority of young people to study math up to 18 within a decade to meet the growing demand for employees with high level and intermediate math skills. 'It is simply inexcusable for anyone to say "I can't do maths,"' adds Humphries. "

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Maths?? (0, Redundant)

Tim Ward (514198) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223407)

Both the Today programme and the web site were demonstrating that the relevant BBC people are themselves mathematically illiterate - they go on about how people "can't do maths" but illustrate this with examples of arithmetic!

Of course everybody here will be aware that there is a difference between mathematics and arithmetic, but how to get this through to the arts graduates at the Beeb?

Re:Maths?? (2, Insightful)

Dzimas (547818) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223577)

Don't be a pedant. Arithmetic is a branch of mathematics. Therefore, the statement "I can't do maths" is akin to stating, "I can't read" when you don't know the letters of the alphabet.

Re:Maths?? (4, Insightful)

bigstrat2003 (1058574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223583)

That distinction doesn't exist in the broader use of the English language, and it doesn't freaking matter. It was clear to everyone what was meant.

Re:Maths?? (0)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223655)

...it doesn't freaking matter.

Slashdot: News of the absurd, stuff that doesn't freaking matter.

Re:Maths?? (1)

grumling (94709) | more than 2 years ago | (#39224079)

Work pr0n into that statement and you pretty much describe the whole Internet.

We're morons basically.. (5, Interesting)

improfane (855034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223849)

I come from the UK and personally find mathematics pretty difficult. I can work through problems on paper but my mental arithmetic is atrocious. By the time I two operands and an operator in my head and have broken up the problem into a simpler problem, I have forgotten the original two numbers...

That said, mathematics should come the more you practice. I like to blame the school curriculum -- it is shit. The only reason why I am valuable is because I acquired computing skills playing on computers as a child.

I'd like to blame mathematics textbooks but I cannot. My generation and a few before me have lost the willpower and motivation to actually study and learn things properly. Our education system does not really promote mathematics that well. My school staff was rife with young twenty somethings fresh out of university with no real ability to teach...

Teaching has lost its respect and professionalism in the UK too. Add to the fact it became okay and even cool to be ignorant in modern culture.

Re:We're morons basically.. (3)

GmExtremacy (2579091) | more than 2 years ago | (#39224087)

US public schools pretty much destroy all the fun in learning, too. Not to mention that there's this "teach to the test" mentality going on. As long as you can pass a test, that is all that matters. Memorize and forget (which is what usually happens).

Re:We're morons basically.. (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39224113)

Don't feel bad. Doing math in your head has been replaced by calculators. Application of math is where it's at.

I know plenty of people who can do math in their head, but can't actually use it for anything outside of homework.

Re:Maths?? (5, Interesting)

mikael (484) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223859)

Unfortunately, while we used to have separate exams for arithmetic and mathematics, the powers that be decided that the best way to narrow the gap between low achieving inner city schools and high-achieving middle class schools was to merge the many different exams into single subjects; arithmetic and mathematics became general mathematics; physics, chemistry, biology and APH became general science.

Back 30 years, there used to be adverts on TV at every lunch-time to help people with literacy and numeracy skills, titled "On the move". They just mentioned a hotline anyone could call to arrange an appointment with an adviser (information pack or application forms wouldn't be much use). These days, it's cheaper for employers to employ East Europeans with English as a second language.

Re:Maths?? (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 2 years ago | (#39224055)

Of course everybody here will be aware that there is a difference between mathematics and arithmetic, but how to get this through to the arts graduates at the Beeb?

Somehow I must have missed that vital piece of information in the course of getting my math degrees. I'd say "the arts graduates at the Beeb" have a better grasp on the situation than you do.

Numeracy != math (-1, Troll)

genjix (959457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223413)

That's arithmetic not math!

Re:Numeracy != math (1)

Sique (173459) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223975)

That's akin to claiming that not knowing the alphabet is not the same as illiteracy. Of course there is more to literacy than knowing the letters, and there are some cases of people knowing a large body of literature while being technically analphabets. But in general, people not knowing the alphabet are illiterate, and people not knowing arithmetic are seriously challenged by math.

Re:Numeracy != math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39224011)

Arithmetic is a field of mathematics.

I am amused standing in a cashiers line (2)

peter303 (12292) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223419)

Often either a customer or the cashier makes an arithmetic mistake and neither catches it. If the errors didnt average out over time, then I might have said something. Dont want to slow down the line.

Re:I am amused standing in a cashiers line (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223543)

I overpaid at wal-mart a few months ago, I was being lazy and expected the cashier to count this wad of cash, maybe $1-$5 over the amount required. She threw the cash in the drawer without looking at it twice. I was stunned and already exhausted, but whatever. "I'm not sure that was the right amount" "right amount for what", "never mind - happy holidays"

sometimes shit just isn't worth it.

Re:I am amused standing in a cashiers line (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223627)

The other option is she expected that and pocketed the difference. I did that a few times when I was a cashier.

Re:I am amused standing in a cashiers line (1)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223735)

She probably knew her till was already down, and was trying to rebalance it.

Re:I am amused standing in a cashiers line (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223813)

I've seen the same things happen several times, and I just don't get it. It's been a decade or so, but in my youth I worked my share of cash registers. Every place I worked, we had to count out at the end of the night, and if the drawer was off by more than X amount (with X usually being around $2), there were miserable consequences, generally involving what amounted to a probationary period. I guess that concept must just not exist anymore, which I find extremely strange as it seems necessary to keep your cashiers from robbing you.

Re:I am amused standing in a cashiers line (3, Insightful)

Rary (566291) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223613)

Cashiers used to be expected to be capable of some basic arithmetic, but not so anymore.

It used to be that they would confirm the change amount by adding it up from the owed amount to the paid amount. Now, they just pile the change on top of the bills and silently try to slide it onto your hand, which invariably results in some of the precariously piled change falling onto the counter.

And if, after they've rung it in and had the cash register tell them how much change to give, you try to give them a little extra change so that they'll give you back a nice round bill instead, then they'll just stare at you like you're trying to pay with live snails.

Re:I am amused standing in a cashiers line (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223711)

Some of that isn't the cashiers fault. It's amazing how many people get confused if you try to count back change like that now.

On the other hand, I've seen some registers that instead of showing change due as $14.68 will show
1x$10
4x$1
2x$.25
1x$.10
1x$.05
3x$.01
Except with pictures of the coins and bills.

Re:I am amused standing in a cashiers line (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223901)

Did this place employ mainly niggers?

Just askin' ...

Re:I am amused standing in a cashiers line (2)

oldmac31310 (1845668) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223979)

? Whenever I pay by cash the change amount is worked out on the register from the amount tendered. Seems like there is actually no need for any basic mathematical skills these days apart from just counting up the change to match the read out on the register. Not saying it is right, just that the modern cash register has made all but the most fundamental mathematical skills redundant at the cash point.

Re:I am amused standing in a cashiers line (1)

CPTreese (2114124) | more than 2 years ago | (#39224063)

mod ^ funny

Re:I am amused standing in a cashiers line (0)

bunhed (208100) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223747)

I am always amazed by the cashiers' reaction when I hand them the exact amount after adding up and doing the tax in my head while waiting. "How did you know?" dumbfounded, like I just told them what they had for breakfast. Sad, but amusing nonetheless.

Natural Selection at work (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223423)

Man is powerful because of his intelligence. The stupid should be left behind, to make room for the next stage of human evolution.

Re:Natural Selection at work (5, Insightful)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223497)

uneducated != stupid

Re:Natural Selection at work (2)

mc6809e (214243) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223575)

uneducated != stupid

Yeah but usually ineducable == stupid.

Re:Natural Selection at work (2)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223845)

Or indeducable == ideologically entrenched. A portion of the populace which is not to be neglected.

Re:Natural Selection at work (2)

roeguard (1113267) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223777)

uneducated != stupid

Agreed.

I would go further and say neither being uneducated or stupid makes you a bad person. It may make your life more difficult than it needs to be, but it doesn't drop you a rung on the moral ladder.

Re:Natural Selection at work (4, Insightful)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223785)

No, and while the GP was a troll, there is a point to be made here –the problem in the UK is that people don't want to be educated in maths. There's a large segment of society that thinks that it's good to be numerically illiterate. They wear "I don't know maths" as if it's a badge of honour. That is stupid.

Re:Natural Selection at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223839)

No but there are strong indications of correlation. ;P

Re:Natural Selection at work (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223567)

This would be true if it weren't for the great possibility that the problem is cultural/social. In this case, it would mean the decline or end of humanity.

We have a lot of social and cultural focuses which are pushing against education and general intelligence. Those need to be remedied in some way.

Re:Natural Selection at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223581)

Man is powerful because of his intelligence. The stupid should be left behind, to make room for the next stage of human evolution.

More simply put, those people who are bad at math are why the rest of us can get a good rate on our mortgage (because those poor sobs put themselves into the high risk bucket) and why we get such a good return on our diversified portfolios (because so many of them that try to engage in "skillful trading" end up buying high and selling low.)

Why ruin a good thing? We have been dealing with these kinds of people for a long time, and they will always be around in the future. If they don't take advantage of the educational options in front of them, who are we to force it down their throats?

Posting Anon? Oh you bet.

Re:Natural Selection at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223977)

Because they still have the ability to vote and they usually vote for someone who agrees to tax those with intelligence and careers to subsidize them.

Re:Natural Selection at work (1)

lnunes (1897628) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223629)

You never watched Idiocracy, did you?

Re:Natural Selection at work (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223697)

Newsflash - Idiocracy is not a documentary, but rather a poorly made satire which apparently appears most to those suffering hardest from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Re:Natural Selection at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223861)

Yeah, as if smart people self-selecting themselves out of the gene pool by refusing to make babies at a competitive rate is a new thing... If anything (presuming that in recent history this is true) there will be an emergence of a "ruling class" of smarter, better educated and ultimately more wealthy individuals at the top, and the hyperfertile baby cannons at the bottom. Whether or not that is a good thing is a matter of perspective.

Re:Natural Selection at work (1)

TWX (665546) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223715)

Man is powerful because of his intelligence. The stupid should be left behind, to make room for the next stage of human evolution.

If it worked that way I might agree with you, but unfortunately generations upon generations exist without demonstrating this, and ultimately they act as a burden on progress because they don't understand it or what kinds of benefits can be found from it.

Re:Natural Selection at work (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223891)

Man is powerful because of his intelligence. The stupid should be left behind, to make room for the next stage of human evolution.

If it worked that way I might agree with you, but unfortunately generations upon generations exist without demonstrating this, and ultimately they act as a burden on progress because they don't understand it or what kinds of benefits can be found from it.

Yeah, right, as if the lower class has no purpose. I WOULD like fries with that, and make it snappy...

Re:Natural Selection at work (1)

Ender_Stonebender (60900) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223759)

You don't understand how natural selection or evolution work, do you? The innumerate are winning at the natural selection game because they can't figure out how bad having another kid is going to be for them financially. And the "survival of the fittest" doesn't imply fittest for anything but producing lots of offspring. (Of course, this is self-limiting, since this planet has a finite carrying capacity, and the innumerate are incapable of running a space program...)

If you can't (5, Insightful)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223447)

If you can't add, you can't buy things.

If you can't multiply / divide , you can't run a business.

If you don't know anything about combinatorix (odds), you get suckered by any form of gambling, including insurance, warranties and the stock market.

If you don't understand exponential math, you can't become wealthy.

Re:If you can't (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223595)

Insurance is not quite the same as gambling... while it is true that *if* you can afford it, self insurance (i.e. none) is generally more economical in the long run, most people are not able to absorb the high impact, low frequency damages that insurance protects against. If you can't absorb losing your house @ $250k, then you get fire insurance. If you can't absorb the cost of a new car in the event you crash your own, you get car insurance.

The warranties thing is definitely true, though, as most people can afford a new computer ($1k) if their current one breaks. Given the price of extended warranties, if you buy it three or four times you have spent enough to buy a new machine anyway.

Re:If you can't (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223729)

Hm. Where I live car insurance is a legal requirement for operating a vehicle and homeowners is required by the mortgage company to protect their investment. I don't think I know two people that own their homes outright.

All that's left is health insurance, which I wouldn't go without, given the extreme costs of medical care for even simple things.

Re:If you can't (4, Insightful)

Sique (173459) | more than 2 years ago | (#39224071)

Car insurance covers much more than just the new car. Car insurance mainly covers the damage you could inflict upon others if you make a mistake while driving. I don't know if you are able to pay the care for someone who is quadriplegic for the rest of his life because you hit his motocycle in an accident.

Re:If you can't (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223749)

boy did you mess combinatorics up.

Re:If you can't (2)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223867)

Oh well, if you do not understand exponential maths, you can become an economist preaching that the status quo is sustainable. Good money to be made there.

Re:If you can't (1)

gewalker (57809) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223993)

Well, we could add the rule, if you can't do some simple arithmetic, you can't vote. Maybe that would change some outcomes in a positive way.

Before you decide this would be unconstitutional (in the USA) let me advise you, you would be wrong. Nothing in the US Constitution recognizes an unconditional right to vote, it just establishes that certain forms of voter discrimination are not allowed (e.g., racial or gender) and leaves most of the rules up to the states. States that gave literacy tests were ruled unconstitutional (rightly so), because the practice was designed and practiced as a form of racial discrimination. Nothing is inherently racial about a literacy test or math test. I also understand that many courts would disagree with me -- matters not, judges don't actually follow the constitution as is clear in a number of cases. If you doubt this, compare what the constitution actually says to dred scott v sandford, roe v wade, the slaughter house cases, plessy v ferguson and kelo vs new london.-- I put in cases that offend the both the left and the right. They all offend me because they are blatantly bad from a constitutional basis. This BTW does not mean that they are bad from a policy basis -- however, the correct solution is to amend the law.

This does not mean it would be a bad idea. Most governments have so really stupid laws practices that would benefit society most by immediate termination.

Don't know about Numeracy (5, Funny)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223457)

Don't know about Numeracy - but numerology ruined my life. Fortune cookie told me 05 14 46 52 56 were my lucky numbers. I ran up huge credit card debt expecting to win the lottery with these numbers... then I found out fortune cookie didn't give me the powerball number.

Re:Don't know about Numeracy (0)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223645)

Don't know about Numeracy - but numerology ruined my life. Fortune cookie told me 05 14 46 52 56 were my lucky numbers. I ran up huge credit card debt expecting to win the lottery with these numbers... then I found out fortune cookie didn't give me the powerball number.

I'd say the ruin came from the fact that you didn't realize that no matter how many times you buy the same numbers for a drawing, your chances of winning don't get better. And I won't bother pointing out that after the first time the numbers were wrong you probably should have realized it wasn't meant to be. Did the cookie REALLY need to spell out the fine print of "If you don't win these numbers on the first try, move on you idiot!"

Re:Don't know about Numeracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223709)

No no, they were clearly the credit card company's lucky numbers.

It's a common mistake people make with fortune cookies.

Re:Don't know about Numeracy (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223883)

My fortune cookie told me 4 8 15 16 23 42 and I ended up trapped for years in an island, only to find out I was dead. It was awful! No more fortune cookies for me.

And the sad part is... (5, Insightful)

sconeu (64226) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223459)

That many people are proud of their innumeracy.

Re:And the sad part is... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223523)

I agree with you. Sad thing is that the three of us can't change the world.

Re:And the sad part is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223755)

I'd believe you if you cited any kind of source instead of it just being the usual repulsive nerd superiority

It's worse than that. (4, Insightful)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223483)

The generally poor understanding of numbers on the part of others adversely affects my life as well. Not only to the extent that they make poor decisions for themselves, but from the way they make poor decisions on my behalf. Damn politicians.

Citizenship math (5, Interesting)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223597)

A large part of the problem is that if they got math at all then it was part of the track to the physical sciences (algebra -> algebra 2 -> calculus -> differential equations).

Voters who aren't in a physics-based career need math, but not the same branch of it. Statistics is critical. Understanding what correlation means and what it doesn't, what a control group is for, recognizing sample bias, and definitely the base rate fallacy are all vital for resisting propaganda.

Re:Citizenship math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223935)

I think it goes a little beyond that. I'd be willing to bet there is a large portion of the population who don't really understand how percentages work. At that point Statistics is still beyond their reach. Just think about how many concepts require an understanding of percentages before you can grasp them. Can you imagine not being able to understand the difference between 3% and 4% mortgage, much less what a variable interest rate could possibly do to you.

Laugh it up. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223505)

43% of every dollar in the Federal budget last year was borrowed, and you're wondering if innumeracy ruins lives.

Check back in 3 years for the surprising answer!

Can't do Maths? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223527)

How about the people that can't do Englishes?

Re:Can't do Maths? (3, Informative)

The Raven (30575) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223649)

Waste of mod points, but: that is completely proper British English, you insensitive clod. This is an article written in the UK.

Re:Can't do Maths? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223675)

Too bad in your case it only applies to North Americanses.

In England it is the proper format.

years studying does not imply results (2)

RichMan (8097) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223533)

The education system needs to require results not just apply time and expect education to happen due to exposure.

Reminds me of a quote by John Wayne (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223535)

Life is hard; it's harder when you're stupid.

Growing Demand (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223539)

I feel like there is some man in the back of the media's heads telling them to write a story about how there is a "Growing Demand" in something to advise the youth to pursue regret.

Absurd! (0)

z3pp3h (1842070) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223541)

Well if you can't do Englishs then how can you be expected to do maths?!

I don't think they factored that equation properly (1)

bunhed (208100) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223553)

Seems to me it's the Department for Education is the one that "can't do maths" in this equation.

Must be said (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223555)

Innumeracy is what keeps the mythology of supply-side economics and the Laffer Curve alive.

Re:Must be said (4, Informative)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223791)

Innumeracy is what keeps the mythology of supply-side economics and the Laffer Curve alive.

The usual Laffer curve argument doesn't even rely on innumeracy, it relies on the inability of those to be indoctrinated to do basic logic. Has anyone actually *seen* this fabled curve? All you get is the trivial cases of no revenue at 0 and 100% tax rate, and, ergo *jedi hand wave*, we must lower taxes. If you do actually plot revenue against rate for different countries, you get a complete mess which you cannot fit against any meaningful function. That is not the purpose anyway, the whole Laffer curve argument relies on that Jedi hand wave.

Sure (1)

Scareduck (177470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223559)

Just ask anyone relying on Social Security's solvency in 20 years.

Long Term Illness (1)

Artea (2527062) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223563)

Two plus two is ten.
Shit I just caught asthma.

(In base four I'm fine!)

Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223603)

Sheesh. Numeracy is as easy as 1, 2, 4.

Struggling with this in my household (5, Interesting)

manonthemoon (537690) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223617)

My eldest son is a whiz- he's a couple years ahead and should get through AP Calculus and Stats by the time he gets through HS.

On the other hand we adopted 5 girls from foster care and it is a STRUGGLE. I don't know how much of it is organic (all of them were exposed to drugs/alcohol in utero) and how much of it is early formative, but they all have incredible difficulty making the most basic inference or deduction or story problem. I'm really concerned for them because I forsee them potentially running into the roadblocks referenced by the article summary. But there are in fact SOME excuses for saying "I can't do maths." Some people may never be able to master the basics no matter how hard they try.

Not to say we are in any manner giving up. They get extra tutoring at school and spend hours doing homework, despite being in elementary school, but different people have different top levels of achievement and sometimes that level is below what any of us would like.

Re:Struggling with this in my household (1)

BagOBones (574735) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223909)

Children's brains use it or loose it.. For children developing their brains are strengthening the connections they use and pruning the ones they don't. A large amount of this activity happens up to age 5-6 and almost completes between 14-18. Not to say you can't learn at that point, but it is much easier before then to develop new skills.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/work/adolescent.html [pbs.org]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synaptic_pruning [wikipedia.org]

Re:Struggling with this in my household (2)

smagruder (207953) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223911)

You strike upon an important point.

In my own experience, the hardest part about math is mastering the basics (simple arithmetic). But after that point, learning most things mathematical is like jumping between baby steps.

If it's possible, I would advise working with your girls for as long as possible with the basic math skills until they get if, even if takes years. It would be nice if all schools could be configured to let some students work at their own pace (whether behind or ahead), but since they don't in general, non-stop tutoring until they "get it" is probably the best way to go.

Re:Struggling with this in my household (0)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223917)

So what you're saying is boys are better at maths than girls?

But seriously, the story doesn't make sense. I realize most folks aren't math whizzes, but "Government figures show that almost half the working population of England have only primary school math skills".

Does primary school math in England not cover greater than and less than? This is how much money I spend. Is it greater than or less than the amount I earn/have?

Trouble with a train time table? This is the time the train arrives. Is it greater than or less than the time I need to reach my destination?

We're not talking find the area under the curve or calculate the volume of water passing through an area for a given period of time. Primary math skills (add, subtract, multiply, divide, greater than, less than, equal to) should get you pretty far in life.

Inexcuseable (2)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223661)

"...'It is simply inexcusable for anyone to say "I can't do maths,"

It is also simply inexcusable for people to live well beyond their means riddled with massive amounts of pointless debt, but let's go ahead and blame calculus for the reason most people are flat-ass broke, living paycheck to paycheck. Lord knows we wouldn't want to offend anyone by telling them they SUCK at saying "no".

Re:Inexcuseable (3, Insightful)

smagruder (207953) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223829)

Why not a combination of factors? This isn't really a black-and-white thing.

Re:Inexcuseable (0)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39224047)

Why not a combination of factors? This isn't really a black-and-white thing.

That's no bullshit.

You'll never find a bigger group of narcissistic douche-bags than the people who act like they're the only ones on the planet whose position in life is affected by variables outside their scope of control.


Fundamentalists maybe.

Correlation != Causation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223685)

People who have bad properties in some regard are more likely to have bad properties in other regards as well. Fat, uneducated, short life span, illiterate, innumerate, all related. Misery loves company.

It's frightening (1)

devphaeton (695736) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223723)

This is one of a series of articles where I've seen that the British can't do math and have trouble with spelling, grammar and apostrophe use. The worst part though, is that most of them end with "at least we're doing much better than those in the United States."

It worries me how bad the U.S. is getting. I should get out more, but now I'm worried about what I'll see.

Re:It's frightening (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223795)

Here in America we have it easy - we only have to learn one math, not an entire "programme" featuring an assortment of "maths".

Re:It's frightening (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39224095)

Lol...

At the root of this supposed BBC article is a KPMG study, and the best way to illumiate the idiocy of the assumptions is through the use of debatinng technique, 'reduction ad absurdum.' So let's do that tought experiment, shall we? What would happen to the British 'economy' should each and every person in that fine state be educated to excel at math, let's say to the level of proficiency at integral calculus, then what?

Would everyone be overqualified, would this greater than mean feat, alone, allow every individual in Great(er) Britain to improve their lifestyle? Even if every British citizen were to be able to obtain more advanced employment, this alone would not change the nature of their society or qualities of their lifestyles. Someone has to provide menial labor, and those at the bottom are forced to live in squalor because the 'value' of their labor requires it, then who's to blame?

KPMG's self serving addiction to the notion that superior math skills equates to greater level of compensation for any one person may be true, but just because one instance is true does not indicate that you can accurately extarpolate that the outcome would be the same for everyone, especially based solely on one facet of human circumstance.

Mathematics skills don't make me anymore able to deal with society in general than driving skills. And KPMG's view of the 'economy' is hardly a valid sociological indicator.

This is pure bunk, but I'm not surprised that this crowd feels compelled to pick up this ridiculous train of thought and run with it.

Not Hardly (2)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223775)

I think it's more of a matter of people being exceptionally lazy recently versus in the past than it is a matter of poor numerical comprehension. Everyone's attitude seems to be "I don't need to understand it, there's an app for that." ...then again, I'm a computer programmer who deals with charts and numbers thoroughly on an hourly basis, and I don't think I've ever had to read the "How to use this guide" section on the 40-some page bus schedule in my town to figure it out.

Sometimes I wonder if a global-scale EMP or solar flare would be the best thing to ever happen to humanity.

Big Deal. (3, Interesting)

korgitser (1809018) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223781)

Millions of people struggle to understand. Whatever. We do remember that we come from a times when there was no math around at all, right? So how much time do we spend being happy abouth the fact that millions of people do understand a payslip or a train timetable? Making fuss about these millions without context shows poor skills in philosophy and can ruin lives.

Some important questions to ask around these skills and the millions are here:
How many and much total skills do people have?
Is the total going up or down?
Is the relative amount of math skills in this total going up or down?
What are the other skills that might be replacing or being replaced by math skills?
Which skills should be priorities? For which professions?

Re:Big Deal. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223981)

How many and much total skills do people have?

I'm sorry. I can't do maths.

Ob (2)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223811)

weak math skills are linked with an array of poor life outcomes such as prison, unemployment, exclusion from school, getting a knighthood for services to the banking industry and then having it revoked.

FTFY

Correlation is not causation. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223819)

Correlation is not causation.

We need to be reminded of this often, because our minds work largely in a correlative mode. And so we fall back on correlative thinking easily. Only by conscious effort can we combat this kind of thinking (when it is useful to do so).

Re:Correlation is not causation. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223887)

This.

Perhaps being bad at "maths" is nothing but a symptom of exactly the same problem that's causing them to be bad at life. Wonder if the cause could be laziness?

It's Not All Bad (5, Funny)

Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223827)

My college career was greatly aided by the fact that many of these people will play poker for money.

And then there are political implications (0)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223835)

When you think about the math required to understand the science behind climate change, or the time spans involved in evolution...

You mean I can't afford that mortgage? (1)

gelfling (6534) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223885)

The one for 1.5 million dollars on my $15/hr paycheck with zero down and $200/month for 5 years until the whole balloon comes due? I knew me some numbers I coulda avoided that debacle. Who knew?

Is Poor Numeracy Ruining Lives? (1)

dtmos (447842) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223915)

It seems there are three alternatives -- innumeracy makes peoples' lives better, worse, or doesn't affect them at all. In the 21st Century, arguments that it makes peoples' lives better, or doesn't affect them at all, would have to be pretty creative, so I think we can stipulate that it makes peoples' lives worse. We're then left to determine whether the worsening of their lives rises (falls?) to the point of ruination. To do this, one would have to take a random sample from a population of innumerates, determine the average quality of life of the sample, and perform a statistical hypothesis test, using the one-sample z-test . . . oh, wait.

Cheap easy education (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39223957)

Despite the possible difficulties in the semantics and understanding of what numeracy actually means, the idea that people have gaps in their understanding of basic mathematics is hardly new. It would be quite interesting to sit people down and teach them from extremely basic addition (1+1=2) and work them to what can be considered higher mathematics with something like Khan Academy it wouldn't even take that long. One could make a good dent in making this problem go away.

If they can't do basic math... (1)

GmExtremacy (2579091) | more than 2 years ago | (#39223967)

then something is wrong. "Maths" is so vague. Plenty of people can get by without calculus and trig, for instance. Basic math is actually useful for almost everyone (I don't know a single person that wouldn't find it useful).

Math education doesn't help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39224003)

It doesn't help that we still follow the classical progression for math curriculum rather than updating it to the modern world. We can't rely on college to teach necessary math skills, we have to ensure that high school graduates have the skills they need to function in society. The question that students ask when they hit geometry/trig ("when will I ever use this") is reasonable...unless you're going on to higher math, those two subjects are nearly useless. We should, instead, be teaching things like statistics in high school. I think it would even be advisable for students/parents to be given the choice between a college focused curriculum where it's assumed the student will continue his/her education and one that's focused towards preparing them to enter the workforce and manage their lives. The latter track could include courses in basic accounting and computers. It may seem to those of us that grok math easily that balancing a checkbook, keeping a budget or saving towards a goal is a simple matter of arithmetic, but to many just understanding which numbers to add and subtract is challenging.

Maybe if the schools actually taught math (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39224039)

instead of worrying about diversity, inclusion, and social justice this wouldn't be as much of a problem. In addition, if they actually taught arithmetic instead of trying to have kids reconstruct it from first principles, it might be less confusing.

Other subjects require more instruction time (1)

sithkhan (536425) | more than 2 years ago | (#39224053)

I wonder if they are able to name the great LGBT scientists, or explain how evil Western Culture is today, or demonstrate how to properly apply a condom to a banana. I understand this is an article bemoaning the fate of the UK - but it is coming to the States, and we happily grease the tracks for the train.

Even at university level... (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39224057)

From the article:

For less prestigious universities, "the inclusion of mathematical requirements can reduce the number of applicants to unsustainably low levels"

The owner of the DNA Lounge in San Francisco once noted this conversation [dnalounge.com] with some construction people:
Noewell: Hey, do you have a calculator?
Barry: (Hands over his Palm Pilot.)
Noewell: (Looks...) No, I need one that can do square roots.
Barry: Huh??
Noewell: You know, Pythagorean Theorem?
Barry: Uhhhhh...
Noewell: A^2 + B^2 = C^2?
(Waits...)
I'm hanging a diagonal cable, and I know the width and height and need to know how long to cut it?
Barry: So this is that actual real world use of geometry that they told us about! I didn't believe it! I never expected to see this happen!

Think of the Bankers! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39224109)

If people were better at math, bankers would lose power.

Think about it.

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