Graham Turner thinks decimalisation is to blame for poor numeracy

It would appear that one of the reasons we are in recession is because a large proportion of the population can’t add up.

Late last month, the National Numeracy Challenge, backed by various business, education, political and voluntary groups, was launched with the aim of improving the maths skills of adults.

National Numeracy claims that nearly half of adults in the UK have the maths skills of an 11 year old, a situation that is damaging the economy to the tune of £2.4 billion a year.

But why are we so bad at maths? The jury seems to be out on that one.

Schools and teachers are, as usual, in the frame and, as usual, probably unfairly.

Coincidentally, I recently listened to a radio programme about maths in Japan and particularly about how they use the abacus. They have contests which see competitors calculate at tremendous speeds and the best don’t even have a physical abacus, they can simply visualise the calculations. The world record for adding up 15 numbers between 100 and 999 is 1.7 seconds.

The programme spoke to Japanese teachers who thought that in the west we were (relatively) weak at maths because of our complicated language for numbers. They said, for example, that the word eleven does not relate to any other numerical word or phrase. Their system is to say 10-1. Twenty one would be 2-10-1 – much simpler for children to grasp, they said.

I have a different theory – that we’ve simply become lazy. Everyday maths has become too simple, and I blame decimalisation.

People care about money and how much they’ve got, and since 1971 they’ve only had to think in 10s and 100s.

Before then, we had to do proper maths to work out how much we were paying and how much change we should get (no calculators then, either).

Twelve pennies in a shilling, 20 shillings in a pound, 21 shillings in a guinea, half crowns (2s 6d), half pennies, farthings . . . that was money you had to think about. Now we have shops that charge £1 for everything, where’s the (maths) challenge in that?

 For regular readers, I’m afraid I did not vote in the Police and Crime Commissioner election, breaking a record stretching back more than 30 years. It wasn’t a protest, I just don’t understand the role or why it’s needed.




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