Letter: A plus for UK maths

April 6, 2001

I found startling the statement by Brian Butterworth in his review of Keith Devlin's book The Maths Gene that "if we fall behind our economic competitors - and we have fallen a long way behind in the average mathematics performance of schoolchildren - this could diminish our own prosperity as a country and as individuals" (Books, THES , March 23).

Who are "we"? Scotland does rather well, actually. Who are "our economic competitors"? All parts of the UK do quite well compared with, say, the United States. What is a "long way"? Only one or two countries do a lot better than England and Wales. Which part of "the performance of schoolchildren" is being measured? Children in England and Wales are world leaders in mathematical problem-solving for their age group.

In addition, results from the latest international comparisons suggest that the connection between mathematics attainment and the economic prosperity of the state is an inverse one, not a direct one.

Hilary Povey
Assistant director: head of ITE School of Education
Sheffield Hallam University

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