National numeracy day is a rallying point in the UK’s ongoing battle to get over its maths problemby Wendy Jones / May 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
Maths makes people nervous. Being asked to do a spot of mental arithmetic can set the heart racing and the blood pressure rising. If this feels familiar, you are not alone. Maths anxiety is a well aired research subject that attracts a fair amount of interest in the classroom. But it affects a lot of adults too. And many of us let ourselves off the hook by declaring that we are not numbers people, that maths isn’t our thing and that really it doesn’t matter.
But this month we’re all being invited to ditch our gremlins and take part in the UK’s first ever Numeracy Day, on 16th May. The charity behind it, National Numeracy (NN), aims to spread the message that numbers are worth celebrating, that we all need them and that we can all learn to make use of them. Yes, there have been other national or even international maths days. But these tend to be aimed at (mainly young) people who already like maths; they are often highly competitive and almost certain to convince anyone with negative feelings towards maths that they are right. 16th May will be less exclusive.
To start with, it’s about numeracy not maths. By numeracy I mean the practical application of numbers to everyday life, where problems rarely present themselves as ready-made maths questions. Nor is numeracy just about mental arithmetic (although being able to work things out in your head is always useful—and can be learnt). Perhaps it’s better to think of it as number sense and skill—understanding how words and numbers combine to make numerical concepts, working out what the question is, knowing what to put in the calculator and recognising whether the answer is in the right ballpark.
All the evidence suggests that too many people don’t go through those steps comfortably. A few years back a government skills-for-life survey suggested that half the population had primary school-level numeracy. Recent evidence suggests little has changed. A report from the Money Advice Service (MAS) showed 45 per cent of people struggling with questions like:
Susie is paid £9.00 an hour. She gets a 5 per cent pay increase. What is her new pay per hour?
Susie buys a laptop costing €144 from a company in Germany, at an exchange rate of £1 = €1.20. What is the cost in pounds?