A Nation of Maths Dunces

Column 5, page 26 of NST today carry the title “A Nation of Maths Dunces”. The news reported that 17 million of adults in England has maths capabilities of, at best, of an 11 year old. The numeracy skill is so bad, it far exceeds the poor literacy, which is five million. The decline continues despite billions of pounds poured into programmes to arrest the decline and improve the situation. The report also added that school leavers with this defiency most probably would end up jobless, in prison or getting pregnant at a very young age. This further fuels the image of England as a nation of bastards and yobbos. The NGO who did the survey, National Numeracy, blamed the decline on years of neglect of Maths in school and a culture of prevalent attitude that it was “an honour” to be bad in Maths. One can get away from Maths just by saying  ” I can’t do it”. Of course these people learn maths in English!

In the light of the declining interest of Maths and Science in this country, it is really scary, especially if we read this along with the PISA report for 2010 that shows Malaysian students performance in Maths and Science is declining. I think Malaysia is already taking action on this with the LINUS programme. LINUS stands for literacy and Numeracy Screening has been adopted as one of the education ministry NKRA. For the past couple of years, there was a steady improvement in the literacy and numeracy of primary school students. having said that, I would like to see a real improvement in the attitude of students towards Maths. With advent of automation (read calculators), students do not see the need to learn how to understand the underlying concepts of addition, substraction, multiplication, and division. Even worse the need to do mental arithmatic is deemed “leceh” (tedious). Why bother to crack your head when you can get the answer from your handphone, ipad, notebook or simple calculator. Add this to their disdain of the need to learn the various mathematical theorems and learning only to sufficiently equipped one to answer exam questions, I am not surprise if we are heading towards the path of the 17 million English adults whose mathematical prowess is no better than primary school children.

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