The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Maths' UK can’t figure it out

London, July 6 (Reuters): Most kids would prefer to play a fast and furious computer game than buckle down to a solid dose of maths homework — right'

But what most of them probably wouldn’t know is that behind all the flashing heroics and super-cool graphics on the screen lies a mathematics lesson in itself.

Without maths experts to work it all out, the games wouldn’t be anything like so much fun. Animated computer-game hero Mario needs maths.

But not only do kids shy away from numbers, their aversion to mathematics seems to be getting worse, experts say.

Fewer students are studying maths, standards are falling and British professors have issued a poor report on the state of the nation’s maths — definitely “could do better”.

So worried are they by the slide, they have invited a selection of the world’s finest mathematical brains to analyse Britain’s global maths research position in December.

“The whole academic research community is concerned about the current state of maths and the effect it will have on British maths research in the future,” said Professor Peter Cooper from the London Mathematical Society. “This international review will give us an objective snapshot about where we stand internationally and whether we have the resources to maintain a high position in the future.”

University professors say maths research in Britain is highly regarded worldwide. The Fields Medal, which is the maths equivalent of the Nobel Prize, has had seven British winners out of 44 awards.

But while research is going relatively well, the number of students studying maths is in decline, with those applying to study for a mathematics degree falling by 12 per cent in 2002, according to admissions bodies.

Professors are complaining, too, that other university graduates are unable to solve simple maths problems.

A survey carried out by showed that only 30 per cent of graduates were able to work out that 15 per cent of 200 is 30.

Professors say the reasons for Britain’s waning maths standards are an image problem and semi-qualified teachers scaring away potential mathematicians.

Teachers complain of overcrowding and pupils moan that the host of booklets, worksheets and other self-teaching techniques leave them confused.

According to a survey by the National Association of Mathematics Advisers in January, fewer than one in four newly-appointed maths teachers are regarded as “good appointments” by the schools taking them on.

“The massive amount of target-setting and paperwork has had a corrosive effect on the energy and morale of a lot of teachers. They are drowning and have never been under as much pressure as they are now,” said Professor John Begg from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

Professor Mark Chaplain from Dundee University says the image problem is also to blame.

“Maths has not changed but other subjects like media or art and design have become increasingly attractive, and explain why many students are dropping the subject when they can,” he said.

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