News out recently from the BBC News Website suggests that attaining good maths skills is a major problem for millions of people in this country and according to figures quoted in the article the situation is getting worse with just 22% of people surveyed possessing strong enough numeracy skills to gain a good GCSE compared with 26% in 2003. A lack of numeracy ability is blighting individual peoples lives because they are unable to understand their payslips, train timetables or household bills.
Chris Humphries, who is chairman of National Numeracy (a charity launched today that aims to emulate the successes of the National Literacy Trust) and a former chief executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, says that “15% of Britons studied maths after the age of 16, compared with 50-100% in most developed nations.” National Numeracy quotes research which indicates that weak maths skills are linked with an array of poor life outcomes such as prison, unemployment, exclusion from school, poverty and long-term illness. He also asserted that “many people could not get jobs because they struggled to read graphs and interpret documents, while plumbers unable to do the calculations required to install an energy-efficient boiler might lose income,”
But there is an even wider issue here as other surveys carried out show that a widespread lack of basic maths skills is also damaging the UK’s economic growth. Mr Humphries referenced research by KPMG auditors which appear to show that annual costs to the public purse amounted to £2.4bn. “We are paying for this in our science, technology and engineering industries, but also in people’s own ability to earn funds and manage their lives,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
So is maths really a foreign language? Mathematics is often described as a universal language. It transcends language barriers. Numbers, Algebra, Fractions, Trigonometry. Do they fill your child with dread? Has Maths always been hard work? For many students in the UK, Mathematics has become a blockage, a stumbling block, a subject which is difficult to make the grade in. So why has mathematics become such a foreign language? And how can we help our chldren gain the valuable skills and confidence they need in maths.
Having worked with hundreds of students struggling to make the grade in Maths I believe there are some essential keys.
1) Students do not have a firm foundation of how the number system works making multiplying and dividing by 10 and 100 weak and working with decimals almost impossible.
2) Tables recall is weak. Most students have not learnt these by rote and those who have found it difficult to acquire tables recall seem unable to use known facts as a starting point. A student who knows the 5 times table should be able to start at 5×7 to work out what 7×7 is.
3) Students are not always given efficient written calculation methods for written calculations. I had an A grade student who was unable to solve a long division problem.
4) Students who have mastered effective written strategies need to move on with their calculating. Whilst a number line for subtraction is great for early mastery of skills it is like stabilisers on a bike; there comes a day when the stabilisers are removed and children are able to ride by themselves. Equally in Maths there comes a day when the early strategies need to be replaced with traditional calculation methods. The grid method is great for 2 digit by 1 digit calculations but to calculate a 3 digit by 3 digit multiplication problem it is time consuming, takes a lot of space and has more room for error than the traditional long multiplication strategy.
5) Division, this is the foundation for all work on fractions, decimals and percentages. I believe that division is introduced too early and not consolidated. The introduction of the chunking method in school has caused much difficulty for children to succeed in this area of mathematics.
6) The mathematics curriculum in the UK moves on very quickly. For many children they have not mastered a skill before they have moved on. The next time this skill is encountered the gaps begin to widen as there is little or no foundation to build on.
So what can be done? Find out what topics are being covered in Maths by your child. Ensure they have got the building blocks needed or that if they have not understood a topic they are able to consolidate this before they revisit it.
Tables recall is key, being able to partition numbers, understanding the place value of each digit they are working with and how this links to the number system as a whole. Being able to double and halve numbers, knowing number bonds to 10 and 20. Having reliable age/ developmental written methods for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I encounter many GCSE students who do not have efficient and reliable calculation methods.
Check your child understands how the number system works, this reduces concept errors in calculating. Above all children should enjoy mathematics so try to make it fun.
At Kip McGrath Scunthorpe we use proven tution methods that combine both paper and computer based learning activities in order to help our students gain confidence in maths and provide them with the essential numeracy skills they require not just for passing exams but for the rest of their lives. We therefore welcome the announcement of the launch of National Numeracy and the work that they will be doing in encouraging a love of numeracy and a development of people’s numeracy skills and we wholeheartedly agree with the importance of having a high level of basic maths.
Additionally, we note with interest that this Wednesday is World Maths Day as part of the World Education Games which includes a National Spelling Day tomorrow and World Science Day on Thursday. The online competition is open to all school age students and approximately 5.5 million are taking part this year. The deadline for registering for the 2012 games has passed but we will be monitoring the results with interest to see how how the United Kingdom compares with other countries. And we will be actively encouraging our students to participate in next years games.
If you are concerned that your child is lacking in confidence or skills with their maths please call us now to book a FREE assessment or visit our website for more information about how we can help.
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