Report concerning science students quitting over poor maths


27 July 2007

The National Audit Office is right to spotlight the acute and increasingly worrying issues stemming from poor mathematics skills in British education 

The decline in mathematics abilities has been the subject of considerable concern within the UK chemistry community recently.

A few months ago, the Royal Society of Chemistry publicly compared a maths test set for pupils in China, before entering university, with a test set for students at an English university after arriving on campus, in order to assess skill levels for remedial classes.

The Chinese test was challenging, whereas the English test was embarrassingly simple.  The alarming difference in complexity between the two tests sent out a dramatic warning. An outcome of the comparison was a reported two million international hits on the website where the tests, and subsequently, their solutions, were featured. 

RSC chief executive Richard Pike said in a letter to The Times newspaper yesterday: "Mathematics is embedded within the educational systems of China and India, as in most emerging industrial nations, because its value to the economy is acknowledged in those countries. 

"Maths is an essential tool, not only for studying and engaging in the sciences. The subject also enables young people to think analytically and methodically, which is a tremendous benefit in almost every career, as well as in daily life generally.

"At a time when Britain is facing the challenge of holding its place in the world economically, the flight from mathematics and the resultant drop-out rate in sciences adds up to big trouble ahead.

"The solution is to teach and encourage the use of mathematics not just as an adjunct, but integral to everyday life and to other disciplines. The key is to have more teachers who are inspirational, and in not having a culture in which 'not being good at maths' is somehow regarded as acceptable."

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