Does mental arithmetic add up in a world of calculators?
I doubt many people share my sustained enthusiasm for mathematics, and a new survey from BAE Systems confirms this. It seems many people can’t live without a calculator – can you?
I’m probably in the minority when I say I loved maths at school. I liked nothing more than hunkering down to do quadratic equations, and at one point I had Pi memorised to 24 decimal places.I also adored my maths teacher, Miss Edmunds, to whom I used to sing the Neighbours theme tune, swapping in her surname for the name of the show.
BAE’s poll of 2,016 adults found that one in four people said maths was their least favourite lesson, while 30% said they found the subject ‘uninspiring’. Clearly, they didn’t have a Miss Edmunds guiding them through the hazy world of simultaneous equations and trigonometry.
Sum of us need calculators
Is this lack of love for figures creating a world in which people are non-plussed by numbers without the aid of a calculator? The BAE poll found that, despite one in four needing to do some form of maths every day in their jobs, when it comes to multiplying big numbers together, we just can’t seem to manage it with a piece of paper and a pen.
The people that BAE polled were asked to carry out a series of multiplication tests, with the 11 times table proving the trickiest to master, with one in five making basic errors. This is particularly worrying given that, visually, the 11 times table is one of the easiest to remember.
And it doesn’t take much to get people clambering for the calculator if confronted by big numbers. Some 2% said they needed to use a calculator to work out all sums involving numbers bigger than 10, 3% for numbers over 20 and 13% for numbers higher than 100.
The cushion of the calculator
Are we a nation of numeric nitwits? Or does the cushion of the calculator, or the formula in a spreadsheet, make mental arithmetic a redundant exercise altogether? Given that we have technology constantly at our finger-tips, you could argue that it doesn’t really matter. But what if you’re put on the spot to make a big purchasing decision, or you’re buying a financial product? The ability to work out the big numbers could well see you bagging a better deal.
Hopefully this is something that the introduction of financial education will aim to address. By putting mathematics into a context that relates to the real world, pupils may well be able to see the benefit and ‘inspiration’ behind the subject. Here’s hoping that there’s an army of teachers like mine to help push maths into being a lesson to look forward to. All together now: ‘Edmunds, everybody needs Miss Edmunds…’
Without using a calculator, what does 27 x 32 equal?
864 (79%, 1,951 Votes)
764 (10%, 243 Votes)
867 (5%, 121 Votes)
648 (4%, 88 Votes)
I don't know (2%, 61 Votes)
Total Voters: 2,464
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