The importance of numeracy needs to be understood by everyone and everyone needs to realise that they can become numerate with effort and support.
But the greatest constraining factor - and the one that underlies almost every worrying aspect of the numeracy story - is negative attitudes.
It is culturally acceptable in the UK to be negative about maths. We don’t talk about other life skills in this way, but we hear ‘I can’t do maths’ so often it doesn’t seem a strange thing to say (Kowsun, 2008). Maths is seen as the remit of ‘mad scientists’, ‘nerdy’ boys, and the socially inept (Epstein et al, 2010). We talk about maths as though it is a genetic gift possessed only by a rare few and inaccessible to the general public.
Believing that numeracy doesn't matter or writing yourself off as 'no good at maths' blocks improvement and is also harmful to the economy. In a technology-dependent and increasingly competitive world, the need for improved numeracy is greater than ever.
While the causes of such a negative culture around maths are numerous and complex, key aspects include:
- Bad experiences of maths.
- Maths anxiety.
- A lack of support for adults.