Is all this fuss around numeracy really warranted? I met a trainer in a government department who had to put his staff through a Level 2 numeracy test. He was surprised to find that many failed - as he regards them as good at their jobs.
The claim is that 13.5 million people are 'stressed out' by their poor numeracy. But when did you last hear anyone tell you that they're 'totally stressed about my algebra skills'. The second claim is that 15.1 million have poor numeracy skills (equivalent of G or below at GCSE). This made me think.
Is it right that the standard here is the Maths GCSE. I have known lots of happy, successful people who handle money and numbers and bets who have no GCSE in Maths.
While I accept that much of the 'number' content in the national Curriculum is sound, even here, knowing about prime numbers, square and cube roots etc seems remotely useful.
Shape and space
OK, working out the area of a rectangle I get - we all have to buy carpets and paint etc. But trigonometry? The volume of a sphere? Vectors? Transformations? It's mostly useless, except for a small minority of people.
Some of this is useful but not all. Have you ever seen a stem or leaf table? Simple probability is fine - but calculating mutually exclusive events? It's over-engineered.
This is where it all goes wrong. Here's a quote from Roger Schank who looked into the dodgy history of why algebra became so embedded in curricula, "I'm a math major and a computer science professor, and algebra has never come up in my life, maybe it has in yours." I'd argue that little or nothing in algebra is useful for the vast majority of people in work. In fact it is so conceptually difficult and of such little practical use that most of us who master it forget it soon after we've passed the exam. When was the last time you used a simultaneous linear or quadratic equation?
Algebra is bad for our kids
Even worse, could algebra be damaging our kids approach t maths? I suspect that algebra is the single most damaging cause of poor numeracy. As soon as kids face this useless challenge they are turned off the subject. It kills any interest in maths stone dead. They instinctively kow that it's useless knowledge.
What counts can't always be counted
In truth we need a simple standard in the 'real world' application of maths that is free from the Maths GCSE. Simple mastery of arithemetic, calculating areas, percentages and reading graphs would do. We need to produce adults who love to learn, not adults who avoid all learning because it reminds them of the horrors of school and algebra.