Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Why the sums just don’t add up when they reward failure

Fabio Capello

A recent report claims universities are dropping maths content on science courses because the students and lecturers can’t cope with it.

Due to years of bad maths teaching in schools, the standard of mathematics at third level education is appalling, says the RSA.

Some of the deficiency probably is down to poor teaching. But some may be the result of all the mixed messages we receive when it comes to adding up and doing sums.

Open any newspaper these days, read a couple of articles and you’ll find that the figures just don’t add up. Not in any logical way anyway.

Fabio Capello resigns. He doesn’t finish the job he was employed to do. Under his management, the England squad failed miserably. So what happens to him? He walks away with millions.

Barclays turns in a lower profit than last year and still manages to give bonuses averaging £65,000 to its staff — that’s down a third on last year’s bonuses mind.

RBS awards its top people massive bonuses, even though the money ploughed into it by us still hasn’t been paid back.

Emma Harrison, who runs a consultancy tasked with getting families back to work, fails to meet her stated targets but still awards herself a dividend of £8.6m. Most of that money was earned from government-paid schemes — ie, us

No wonder we don’t know how to do arithmetic any more. Two and two used to equal four, but God knows what it adds up to now!

Pure maths is like poetry, art, music, philosphy. There’s a timeless beauty to its simplicity and style. It works. It’s based on things that can be shown to follow, logically, one after the other.

But those certainties just don’t apply in our modern society. We have a prime minister who insists that there’ll be no reward for failure, while carrying on rewarding failure.

Closer to home we have a senior civil servant laughing as he defends the fact that an accountancy project, which was supposed to cost £970,000 and take three years, actually took seven years and cost £9.7m!

“It wasn’t an overspend,’’ he tells the Public Accounts Committee. “It became a different beast.’’

“It was an elephant, not a horse,’’ he adds. Not according to the Audit Office, who say that the scope of the project didn’t change at all. An £8m overspend and no-one is taking the rap for it? No-one is putting their hand up or their neck on the line or their head above the parapet?

Jeez, I wish I had that level of unaccountability when it comes to doing my accounts.

The only money that seems to be reined-in with any commitment to efficiency, is money paid in benefits to the least well off. The Government knows how to cap a family’s benefits at £26,000, but seems powerless to know how to cap bank bonuses of £1.5 m. Go figure. Our maths teacher, in despair, when we weren’t seeing the answer to a difficult sum on the blackboard, used to summon up all her teacher training and shout at us: “Think, girls! Think!”

Well I’ve thought long and hard and it still doesn’t make sense. Maybe a course in ethics might make the maths come out right.

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