Innumeracy and Reality

British 15-year-olds are now 22nd in the world in math skills. This is officially below the international average. With 190ish countries in the world, I’m not sure how this is below average, but it is. Regardless of where the average is, it represents a sharp decline over the last six years.

This surprises some people. Those people are not in education.

A study just released has shown that pupils in the UK are making no progress in maths between the ages of 11 and 14 (what to Americans would be the middle school years), and if anything are slipping backwards. Because grades must be maintained, the exams are made easier. When the exams can’t be made easy enough, the grade bands are lowered. A couple of years ago, one of the exam boards only required 16% on the Maths GCSE exam for a C grade.

It’s much more important to give the appearance of educational success than to actually achieve it. After all, once the Year 11s have gotten their results, what do schools care? The educational establishment have manipulated the figures to make themselves look good. Good GCSE results bring in more Year 7s who then bring in their allottment of government cash, which keeps school going and teaching jobs safe.

That most pupils leave school functionally innumerate is really not their problem. They don’t have to worry about how former pupils don’t understand the basic maths necessary to manage their lives. Tory MP and London mayoral candidate Boris Johnson has written about how innumeracy is pushing the economy off a cliff. He refers to a friend who provides shared equity mortgages for some of the most disadvantaged people in Britain:

And yet he has been amazed at the deals they are willing to accept from less scrupulous lenders, and the risks they are willing to run with their lives. It’s not that they are stupid, he says. “It’s that they just haven’t been educated to understand the maths. They don’t see what an 11 per cent interest rate can do. They say, ‘Never mind the rate, just give me the mortgage.’ It’s ignorance.”

The consequences of this ignorance can be profound for the individual debtor, and for the rest of the economy.

Nobody worries about consequences anymore, especially not 15-year-olds. After all, they face no substantive consequences for their behaviour in school. They are indoctrinated to face no consequences for their pursuits of pleasure. Why should they face any consequences for their use of money? It is far too removed from their sensibilities to think about how their actions result in consequences for others, including society as a whole.

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3 Responses to “Innumeracy and Reality”

  1. edgarsr Says:

    Where can I see the list of all countries together with their scores?

  2. sol Says:

    I have no idea.

    Though the newspaper source I used said British kids were 22nd, I can only find articles in The Times and The Daily Telegraph that say 24th, though both affirm that this is below the international average. The Telegraph article has been updated since I wrote this article however, so maybe that’s the reason for the difference between my 22nd and their 24th.

  3. edgarsr Says:

    OK, I see. I just wanted to know how does Latvia look like in this context.


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