Cradle to Grave Education

Math Myths

For Britain’s pupils, maths is even more pointless than Latin

Our ministers remain gripped by the cult of maths. But China’s classrooms don’t hold the key to the future of the British economy

The appeal of school maths to control-minded politicians is obvious: it is easy to test, and thus to measure, unlike vague, slippery humanities. British governments, gripped in the vice of targets, crave quantification. They have thus made what is measurable important, rather than what is important measurable. They are Gradgrind‘s useful idiots.

How else could they credit the OECD’s rubbishy but much publicised Pisa tables, which put China “top” in maths in 2012? For a start, the Chinese figures are not for China at all, but just booming Shanghai. The other top maths countries were also de facto city states, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, shorn of their poorer hinterlands. Truss might as well compare rural China with the cities of London and Westminster.

These global surveys are notoriously unreliable. Barely 15% separates the top 25 Pisa states, meaning that sampling discrepancies can move countries wildly up and down. The Cambridge statistician David Spiegelhalter is splendidly dismissive: “The imputation of plausible values, based on an over-simplistic model and assuming the ‘difficulties’ are fixed known quantities, will underestimate, to an unknown extent, the appropriate uncertainty in the scores and rankings.” I could not put it better.

The maths cult is relentless.[…]  For entire article go here; 


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