Number-humble;Leading Article;Opinion

19th March 1999 at 00:00
Sir Wilfrid Cockcroft's research on adult numeracy carried out for his influential 1982 maths report, found that some adults would not even agree to take the test, so scared were they of being humiliated. In international comparisons, the United Kingdom comes out well down the league tables. As a nation we have a problem with maths. And - like under-achievers in many other spheres - we cope with it by pretending that maths doesn't matter.

The national numeracy strategy, and Maths Year 2000 are both intended to change our negative attitudes to maths, and to boost our achievement. A host of degree subjects and their related careers - from economics to genetics - now depend on mathematical understanding. British candidates for top jobs are often less well-prepared than young people from other countries, because they lack maths.

Hence this week's razzmatazz. But the selling point that maths is "fun" can be overdone. Children should not be sold the idea that it is effort-free. Maths is frustrating, fascinating, and, when everything clicks into place, highly satisfying. This is what we should be aiming for - as well as those key stage 2 targets, of course.

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