Which adults would these be?

The Daily Mail is often enough a rich source of material in which to blog over, it’s ever present the barbarians are at the door coupled with faux morality makes it a splendid source of materiel for those days when a bloggers creative juices are not flowing freely.
And so it is with this article…

Mail.
Seventeen million adults – nearly half the working population – have the maths skills of a child at primary school, a report revealed yesterday.
Their grasp of numbers is so poor that they struggle to work out deductions on their pay slips or calculate change.
The number who struggle with basic numeracy has grown by two million over the past decade, even though billions of pounds has been poured into schemes to improve standards.
The scale of poor numeracy far exceeds the equivalent figure for poor literacy, which is now five million.
The report, released by a new charity, National Numeracy, found that 49 per cent of working-age adults in England are so bad at maths that they have no more than the skills expected of a nine to 11-year-old and would struggle with graphs and charts.
About half of these adults – a quarter of the working population – have only the abilities expected of a seven to nine-year-old and might struggle to pay household bills.

Thing is though, I’m wondering which half of the working population would struggle with the tests, particularly the test the Daily Mail puts up for us to try…

Because even though the answers are there, I was able without much difficulty to work them out in my head and I’m certainly not the best at maths in my generation. It may be though that I’m reasonably good at mental arithmetic as I grew up in the last generation before calculators and was taught how to use a slide rule in school and technical college. It does strike me though that the school generations of below the age 40 might be the ones struggling here to actually figure out what’s being asked for, either that or my household is unique with two adults living here able to figure out the questions without really trying too hard or getting a pen and paper out in contrast to my visiting step-daughter who is by no means a dunce and had to do just that.

Mind you, according to the Mail the report comes from a charity called National Numeracy, I don’t know whether this is a fake charity or not, though it would appear to have a vested interest in there being lots of people who are innumerate.

Still, if 50% of the adult population are only numerate to the level of a 9 year old, what does that have to say about the standard of education in our schools?

Or aren’t we supposed to make that sort of surmission?

11 comments for “Which adults would these be?

  1. Twenty_Rothmans
    March 3, 2012 at 7:35 am

    Who writes this shit? I have the mathematics skills of a child at primary school! Additionally, I had the maths skills to matriculate, to take a degree in Science, and to take up a career in computing.

    Could I matriculate again tomorrow? Of course bloody not. But the bits I do need – algebra, trigonometry, arithmetic and a smidgin of calculus – are all there, like a pair of comfortable old shoes.

    Although the system pre-dates me, imperial currency must have created a powerful incentive to at least master some fundamental arithmetic. Money talks.

    As laudable as their aims might be, I fear, alas, that they are trying to teach pigs to sing, for the following reasons:
    * some people are too thick to learn
    * society is not hostile enough to people who are innumerate
    * teachers are reluctant to fail pupils – all shall have prizes

  2. March 3, 2012 at 9:45 am

    ‘a splendid source of materiel for those days when a bloggers creative juices are not flowing freely.’ – damn it, I’ve been rumbled!

    While this has to be taken with a massive pinch of salt – the population as a whole seems to manage pretty well – I think the point about age is significant.

    The Mail’s test is as much about literacy skills as numeracy – Q4 requires no mathematical processing at all – and unintentionally highlights part of the problem; instead of breaking the basic skills down into manipulations of numbers, primary school maths courses dress them up with superfluous detail.

    Hence a simple subtraction problem is obscured by extraneous factors:
    ‘Ashok and Chen go to the swimming pool. They have £3.80 between them. A swim costs them £1.20 each and Ashok buys an [unlikely but healthy] apple for 50p. How much do they have left.’
    By the time the more imaginative pupils have finished wondering why these children – yes, there’s a space-wasting picture too; they look about 7 or 8 – are at the swimming pool without an adult and why Chen doesn’t get a snack, they have completely missed the point of the question.

    Once, a question like this would be expressed in simple mathematical terms, enabling pupils to see what they were doing and why. Add to this confusion the fact that a high proportion of younger primary teachers have weak numeracy skills themselves* (the rot set in before they were born) and you have a recipe for disaster.

    And then you have the parents (of all social classes and backgrounds) – ignorant and proud of it – telling the child at every opportunity how hard maths is and how they were never any good at it either. I’ve spoken to pupils from Chinese and Thai families who are astounded at the discouraging attitude and low expectations of their classmates’ parents.

    *http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2075181/Hundreds-new-teachers-allowed-classroom-despite-failing-basic-numeracy-literacy-tests.html Mail again – sorry!

    • Single Acts of Tyranny
      March 3, 2012 at 11:01 am

      It’s the implied social engineering in the set-up of the question which is the reason for all the verbage.

      • March 3, 2012 at 7:46 pm

        Very true; by the time you’ve got in the obligatory ‘healthy eating and exercise’ propaganda and gender equality factors – and don’t forget multiculturalism – the whole thing is unwieldy beyond belief.

        My niece’s class recently spent two weeks calculating their BMI, fat-burning heart-rate range and the rest of it, yet half the class still don’t know their eight and nine times tables.

    • Voice of Reason
      March 3, 2012 at 9:11 pm

      You have hit on one of the major problems, which solution emanated from here in the US. Mathematics is ‘boring’, so we need to make it more ‘relevant’. In fact, this has been gradually changing in the GCSE exams, which are going back to the old ways.

  3. nisakiman
    March 3, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    “…imperial currency must have created a powerful incentive to at least master some fundamental arithmetic.”

    Oh yes indeedy! Pounds, shillings and pence certainly did focus ones skills at mental arithmetic!

    I had a maths teacher who argued that the duodecimal system was superior to the decimal system because it was divisible by both two and three.

    I never did understand the logic of that since it introduced a lot more variables, and so complicated matters; but then I was never really a mathematician.

    As for the test, if there really are people out there who can’t work it out, the country is heading for big problems. 😯

  4. nemesis
    March 3, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    For those that found the Mail not too taxing – try this one
    http://www.smart-kit.com/s345/simple-puzzle-will-confuse-all-but-the-accountants/

  5. March 3, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    You aren’t supposed to be able to work out what is gone from your wage packet lest you rise up and smite your taskmaster.

    The rot set in when firms were allowed to not pay in cash and not pay weekly. It suited them – much cheaper to do a data transaction once a month – but nothing beats checking the notes in an envelope on a Friday night to bring home the value of money.

  6. Lord T
    March 4, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    There are many things we are taught at school that after we left we forget. I can remember doing a lot of complex math that I can’t remember now. I had to reteach myself from the kids books to help them with their homework. So I am not surprised that adults don’t remember the complex stuff while the kids are still up to date.

    Basic maths we usually still do in the real world and you only have to be in front of a counter whilst a kid is calculating your bill to see how hopeless our education system is.

    SO yet again, there are facts and then there are statistics. I wonder what they are selling? Oh Yes, its another charity looking for funding. Slly me.

  7. David A. Evans
    March 4, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Add the insistence that kids should be able to use a computer and modern aids and you see that less time is spent on important things like reading, writing, and arithmetic.

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