Okafor left school with no qualifications but is now studying for a master’s degree and enjoys “a life that I love” as a construction planner, after confronting her anxiety about maths.
She is so passionate about helping other overcome their numeracy fear that she is sharing her story about maths anxiety for National Numeracy Day on Wednesday 18 May. The aim is to make talking about maths less scary with the first nationwide conversation about numbers, The Big Number Natter.
Only 2 out of 10 adults (19%) often discuss numbers or maths with their family and friends, according to a new survey of over 2,000 adults, conducted by YouGov for National Numeracy.
However, people talk about reading twice as often, with 4 out of 10 (41%) saying they often discuss reading or books with family and friends.
Okafor knows from her own experience how lack of confidence with numbers can hold a person back. After leaving school, she worked in retail and hospitality for a decade, but it was facing her fear of maths that helped turn her life around.
“Get better at numbers so that you can get the opportunities you want in life,” Okafor said. “I missed out on so many years because I was so frightened of trying it – just saying ‘I’m bad at maths’.
“Since I’ve started saying ‘I can get better at maths’ and challenging it, I’ve now got a job that I love, I’ve got a degree, I’m on the way to getting a master’s degree. I’m now enjoying a life that I love because I’ve challenged my fear of maths, I’ve faced it.”
Okafor has now become a ‘National Numeracy Hero’ helping the charity National Numeracy support people of all ages be more confident with numbers, after using the free National Numeracy Challenge website to improve her own numeracy. She is also a STEM Ambassador and has recently launched The Everyday Determinator, a “weekly podcast about overcoming challenges.”
She said: “Using positive language is so important. Understanding that what you say to a child matters. That was very much my experience – what that teacher said to me all those years ago stuck with me and held me back for so long.
“Have a culture of ‘let’s get better, let’s try,’ rather than ‘oh I’m rubbish at that’ and running away, like I used to. I’m still not 100% confident in my maths skills but I’m more confident in my ability to make them better, find resources to become better and support others to become better.”
Time management, paying your bills, understanding how interest rates work, all require a certain level of confidence and competence with numbers, Okafor adds: “A lot of what people do is everyday maths. Everyone uses it every day, whether we know it or like it.”
Among the famous faces also taking part in The Big Number Natter are Edinburgh’s Peter Sawkins, an Ambassador for National Numeracy, who will be chatting about baking and numbers with fellow Bake Off contestant Lottie Bedlow on his Instagram account on Wednesday.
Other names spilling the beans on social media about how numbers make them feel include Strictly Come Dancing’s Katya Jones; the Deaf Chef, Sam Egerton-Kemp, who will be nattering in Sign Supported English; finance influencers Mr MoneyJar Jordan Green and Lord Sugar’s business partner Amani Zubair; and Tom Crawford, famous for his YouTube channel Tom Rocks Maths.
National Numeracy Day’s website offers a host of free, fun and helpful activities, events and resources for adults and children to get involved, from tip sheets to download and videos to watch.