Chinese maths level embarrasses English system

27 April 2007

The country's future prosperity is being threatened by England's schools league tables, claims the Royal Society of Chemistry chief executive. In the race to achieve higher rankings in the tables staff are discouraging pupils from taking mathematics after the age of 16 because the subject is viewed as difficult, and  therefore a risk to league positions through examination failures.

This is having a major impact on the teaching of science at university level, which in turn influences the effectiveness of British industry and commerce. In particular, chemistry and physics rely upon a sound grasp of mathematics, said Dr Richard Pike, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry. 

"Increasingly, universities are mounting remedial sessions for incoming science undergraduates because their maths skills are so limited, with many having stopped formal lessons in mathematics two years earlier at the GCSE level.

"This contrasts starkly with countries like China in which mathematics is seen as integral to the sciences and to the nation's economy, and is taught to all up to the age of 18. There, the concept of remedial courses at university would be inconceivable."

Mathematics tests set by universities for undergraduate chemistry students in their first term to diagnose remedial requirements are disconcertingly simple. They encapsulate the challenge facing this country. Dr Pike called for action now to sort the problem: "What we need is not another study with yet another report left unimplemented on the shelf but a focused investigation, engendering credibility, transparency and inspiration across all sectors and leading to actions that really do place this country at the forefront of education.

"Our future depends upon it."

The Chinese mathematics competition is now closed. 

Thank you for your entries which will be scrutinised carefully. We have had a huge amount of interest from around the world and the issue has caused much debate. The winner will be announced in due course and the judges' decision is final.