And One More Makes Forty-Four

As I start a new year today, I have discovered that 44 is a happy number. This is not astrological or anything. Rather it is a mathematical designation. You replace the number by the sum of the squares of its digits, and repeat the process until the number equals 1 or loops endlessly in a cycle which does not include 1. Numbers that result in 1 are happy numbers. It happens to work out that all of the numbers in a happy number calculation sequence are also happy.

42 + 42 = 32
32 + 22 = 13
12 + 32 = 10
12 + 02 = 1

We have yet to see if 44 will be a happy year. I suppose it could go either way.

I know that my life isn’t what I thought it would have been when I turned 22. That was at least two careers ago. I thought I had a promising future in politics. By the end of 22 that was really washed up. When I’m 88, I wonder how I will look back on 44.

Negative Numeracy

My brother-in-law came across a news story from November in the Manchester Evening News demonstrating just how poor math skills are in this country. The story is just too good not to post in full, though I’ve highlighted a few things in bold:

A LOTTERY scratchcard has been withdrawn from sale by Camelot – because players couldn’t understand it.

The Cool Cash game – launched on Monday – was taken out of shops yesterday after some players failed to grasp whether or not they had won.

To qualify for a prize, users had to scratch away a window to reveal a temperature lower than the figure displayed on each card. As the game had a winter theme, the temperature was usually below freezing.

But the concept of comparing negative numbers proved too difficult for some Camelot received dozens of complaints on the first day from players who could not understand how, for example, -5 is higher than -6.

Tina Farrell, from Levenshulme, called Camelot after failing to win with several cards.

The 23-year-old, who said she had left school without a maths GCSE, said: “On one of my cards it said I had to find temperatures lower than -8. The numbers I uncovered were -6 and -7 so I thought I had won, and so did the woman in the shop. But when she scanned the card the machine said I hadn’t.

“I phoned Camelot and they fobbed me off with some story that -6 is higher – not lower – than -8 but I’m not having it.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.