It's not a big surprise - particularly if you've ever met the Yours team - that we're a nation of maths phobics! In fact new research has found that having to do mental arithmetic in front of strangers is one of UK adults' top fears, and almost one fifth of us don't check our change often because of a nervousness about maths. The survey, carried out by TheMathsFactor.com (Carol Vorderman's online maths tuition site) also discovered that many of us are relying on calculators to perform even simple sums.
But is this a big problem? UK maths legend, Carol Vorderman thinks so. Here, she explains what impact this fear of maths is having on the next generation of learners and offers her top tips for improving your own maths skills:
"I was in shock when research we commissioned recently revealed that doing mental arithmetic was one of the top ten things feared by UK adults. The fact that doing mental arithmetic was considered to be scarier than meeting the in-laws, is a really suprising state of affairs. In fact, women were found to be more fearful of ‘doing mental arithmetic in front of strangers’ compared to men, with almost half (46 per cent) agreeing that doing mental arithmetic in front of strangers fills them with fear, compared to only 20 per cent of men. More than half of women also agreed that their maths has deteriorated since they left school, compared to 41 per cent of men.
"Adults, like children, need to continually practise the subject of maths. Maths is, after all, a language and a failure to use it regularly can mean that you lose these skills or even become fearful of them.
"I do admit that it is easy to let your competence in maths fall by the wayside – an increase in mobile phones means it’s now all too simple to whip out your pocket calculator to work out the restaurant bill and online shopping means you don’t even have to add up your shopping before you get to the till. Letting our maths skills decline as adults creates lots of problems, but perhaps the most significant is the way a negative view of maths is being communicated – often unintentionally – to the next generation of learners. Children take their cue from adults, and we are at risk of creating a ‘lost generation’ of children with a fear of maths that lasts a life time."
So for the sake of your grandchildren, it could be time to sharpen those skills.
Little and often
"I’ve recently been spearheading a campaign to get children loving maths, by encouraging them to practise ‘little and often’ – the results of which have been fantastic. A reliance on daily practice underlines the importance of encouragement and support outside of the classroom. Establishing maths confidence at an early age is the best way of ensuring good maths results for life and that’s why we cannot overlook the role that parents, grandparents and other family members play in this method of learning.
"As this latest research has found, however, many adults do not have the maths skills required while others are fearful of the subject. And yet, children respond really well to this little and often approach, with performance in the subject coming on leaps and bounds. We’ve also found that any previous fear of maths disappears quickly too. As a tried and tested method, there is no reason why adults can’t improve their skills in the same way to help them overcome their fears and also help support the next generation of maths learners. Whatever your age, there is absolutely no reason why anyone should fear maths.
"It’s never too late to master basic arithmetic. The first thing you need to check is your attitude. If you’re thinking 'maths is boring/difficult/unnecessary, but I ought to learn it', you probably won’t get far. But if you see maths as it really is – a life skill that everyone needs, a subject that is utterly essential to almost every aspect of how our society runs – then you’ve made the first and most important step."
Here are a few more simple tips on taking your maths skills forward:
- First of all, try my free Curriculum Quiz – it’s only 10 questions, in ascending order of difficulty, and will give you a very quick sense of how you and your grandchildren compare to other children in school and others round the country
- How good are your times tables? They’re really the cornerstone of good arithmetic skills, so if you haven’t got them sussed, give them some focus.
- Here’s a way back into times tables: on each of the 12 days of Christmas I’ll be releasing one of my times table videos free on my maths practice site
- These videos are a great way to pick up learning tricks and patterns that you’ll never forget – for example, have you ever struggled for a moment with 7x8? Well... 56 = 7 x 8 Note the pattern: 5 6 7 8!
- On my online maths learning and practice site, TheMathsFactor.com, I run a 'times table catch up' service, where you will find my tutorial videos and practice exercises that will embed your times tables for keeps.
- Make a habit of calculating the 'best buy' during your supermarket shop – improve your maths and save money
- Stop using a calculator all the time. When a quick maths problem comes up (e.g. dividing up a restaurant bill), think of it as a challenge, not a chore. Use a pencil, re-build your confidence and, in time, switch to mental arithmetic
- Play more games. Lots of fun games will develop your maths skills without you even noticing – for example Pass the pigs, Bridge, Whist or Monopoly. And you know who have the best mental maths skills? Darts players!
Carol Vorderman’s The Maths Factor has been running since 2010 and has helped over 25,000 4-11 year-olds unlock their maths confidence - of course, it works just as well for adults in need of a refresh. For more information click here
For more expert advice, pick up the latest copy of Yours