Posted by: John Colby | Sunday April 13 2008

“I can’t do maths”

“I can’t do maths” is all too common a sentiment, and any maths educator knows. I’m left wondering where the skills this country has built over the centuries have departed. In Birmingham we have a statue dedicated to Watt, Boulton and Murdoch, prime movers in the technology of the late eighteenth century. They also knew how to make money. They couldn’t do this without a solid grasp of mathematics.

This solid grasp eludes many people brought up via the education system current in this country. We know we have the highest pass rate ever in GCSEs, or so we are told, but looking at the actual exam scores there is a significant decline to achieve this pass rate. You may at this time hear the galloping of a hobby horse, but we are experiencing a significant number of students who have difficulty with understanding both mathematics itself and the necessity of being proficient in mathematics to be able to succeed in business.

I’ve been seeing this problem for many years, starting in industry before I joined the University. Many graduates younger than I seemed to have a lack of an innate understanding of quantity. It’s unsurprising that many universities (half, according to The Telegraph) have to run classes for first year student to remedy gaps in knowledge in Maths and English. “Initiatives” and “Intervention” do not, I believe, work. They are demonstrably not producing people who are proficient. Alleged numeracy hours in schools will take a long time to work though the system. But if numeracy is being taught by people who themselves have difficulty with maths, where are we heading? Ever decreasing circles seems a probability.

(This blog post was formerly known as “Hello World!”)



  1. This is the world saying ‘hello back’.

    Hope I’m worthy of being added to your blogroll when you’re up and running.

  2. @Andy. Yes, your post crossed with my edits, and yes, you’re added.

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