All pupils in English schools should study maths up to the age of 18, a report commissioned by David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove recommended.
The review, led by TV personality Carol Vorderman, warned that radical change is needed to give children the mathematical skills they need to get on in a modern workplace where numeracy is ever more important.
The report found that the current system is failing young people, with almost half of 16-year-olds failing to achieve grade C at GCSE and just 15% studying maths beyond that level - compared to 100% in most industrialised nations.
Ms Vorderman said that each year more than 300,000 16-year-olds - enough to stretch in a line from London to Leeds - conclude their maths studies without enough understanding of the subject to function properly in their work or private lives.
Some 24% of economically active adults are "functionally innumerate", and universities and employers complain that school-leavers do not have the maths skills that they need.
The report blames the system for maths teaching, arguing that many primary school teachers - almost all of whom gave up maths at 16 themselves - are not adequately prepared to teach the subject.
A key recommendation of the report - commissioned by Mr Cameron and Mr Gove in opposition in 2009 - is to split the current maths GCSE into two separate exams, one offering a higher standard of education in the core areas of the curriculum, such as basic numeracy and personal finance, while the other acts as a preparation for A-level.
The report also called for better training to improve primary teachers' subject knowledge and confidence; the active encouragement of maths activities outside the daily lesson; and a new assessment for 11-year-olds to replace SATs.
Ms Vorderman said: "Mathematics is a critically important subject. It is a language without which the entire global infrastructure is struck dumb.
"This report does not make comfortable reading. It is aspirational but this does not mean making maths 'harder' for everyone; it means making the teaching better and what is taught much more suitable for those who are learning it."