More stats please, says British Academy

The UK is falling behind other countries in a “data revolution” sweeping the world, because statistics and data-handling are beng sidelined in the country’s schools, a new report claims today.

The report Count Us In, published by the British Academy, urges the government to do more to tackle what it warns is a “numeracy crisis”. It wants to see:

* An improvement of the quality of statistics teaching across subjects

* The curriculum kept under continuous review

* More young people encouraged to study maths until 18

The academy says the new “core maths” qualifications already being developed to provide a post-16 alternative to A-level are a welcome first step but that more work needs to be done.

Its report points out that the ability to understand and interpret data is an essential part of modern life. It adds that the demand for people able to interpret “big data” – huge amounts of information which companies or governments use to improve services – is estimated to be currently creating 58,000 new jobs a year. It says the UK could become a world leader in this field.

But the report states that the country is facing a crisis in level of numeracy, as more students drop maths at 16, than in other developed countries as the number of jobs that need numerate workers is rising.

“We must not underestimate the cultural change that is required – starting now – primarily, but not entirely, with the UK’s education systems,” the report states.

“Our ability to handle data and reason using numbers will not be transformed overnight,” said Professor Sir Ian Diamond, lead fellow and chair of the British Academy’s High Level Strategy Group for Quantitative Skills. “But we need to put in place the structures that will begin to effect that change. Whichever way we look at it – the sheer potential for our economy and society on the one hand, and the risks of not acting on the other – this is an agenda that demands the interests of decision makers at the highest level.”

The report comes after the Higher Education Academy warned last year that thousands of science, social science and humanities undergraduates did not study the maths they needed to cope with their subjects at university.

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