back to article Most undergraduates 'show fear when asked to do maths'

Six out of every ten university students are afraid of mathematics to the point where it deters them from studying technical subjects, according to new research. The proportion of students who "show symptoms of anxiety" regarding maths is also significantly higher among females than males. In a survey of 885 first-year …

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  1. Liam

    OR....

    maybe they just find maths BORING and uninteresting. after all maths has no room for interpretation - its always a right/wrong answer.

    also, maths degree = single for life, probably a virgin all your life and still live with your mum... much like all my maths teachers from school :)

    to me maths is taught to an unnecessarily high standard anyway. how many people have actually used simultaneous equations by elminination since leaving school?

    i am also qualified in both computing and construction. so i had to do computing related maths and construction/engineering related maths.... never used any of them since. i want all those wasted hours/days etc back!

    what i would like to know is my times tables, but since i was educated in the 1970s / early 80s we never were taught them... and my brain is too useless to try to learn them now!

  2. Pete Silver badge

    maybe they don't like stupid experiments

    According to the article, 47% of men and 62% of women at this spanish university "showed symptoms such as .... impatience, confusion, fear and mental block".

    Personally, I'd get these symptoms too, if someone put me in a lab and started experimenting on me - whether it was about maths, or beer or anything else. I can particularly relate to the impatience thing - "when can I get out of here?"

    So having performed this work and reported their results, what now? Presumably the people who are expected to read the report are similarly fearsome, impatient or fearful, so they'll ignore or misunderstand the numerical results it presents.

    File under: 87% of statistics are irrelevant or useless.

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Math made me do it!

    "Many students choose degrees different to those they preferred – and in which they would be really good in many cases – in order to avoid studying subjects connected with Mathematics."

    An economist would say that they actually chose degress that they preferred as having some math in the curriculum actually lowered the preference ranking of the other degrees. So be it. Enjoy your toothless sociology.

  4. Vincent Ballard

    Educational systems

    It would be interesting to compare results obtained in universities of similar level in a few other countries to see how much this is an artefact of the Spanish educational system. There are two obvious factors which could account for at least part of the results: the clustering of subjects, which doesn't allow people to choose the individual subjects they study in the run-up to university, and the endemic cheating (driven by shame at getting anything less than top marks), which could lead to some people failing to improve in their weak areas because there's an easier alternative.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Science, Engineering

    Wish I did a degree in History of Art, I might be a Minister in the Labour government now.

    People's attitudes towards science, maths, engineering subjects in this country are fundamentally wrong. Talk to people in China, India, Pakistan and people with these qualifications are respected, looked-up to. Those subjects are seen as important, important to the country and its economy, but not so here in the UK.

    But take a look at the kind of people we have in government, the majority are lawers and bankers. It really is a case of , show me the scientist!

    Now take a look at China, human rights issues understood but not to be discussed here, the fact is the 11 members of the bureau that run the country, each and every one of them is a former engineer or scientist.

    If you want engineering and science to thrive in the UK, instructions and direction must come from government, but alas, our government lacks any real understanding, and where the people running the country, at a personal level don't have any interest in these subjects.

    Combine this with an education system systematically run down by the labour government which decrees, it's unfair, upsetting for kids to fail exams, so we dumb them down to enable everyone to pass.

    Not surprising then we're in such a mess: the politicians are the ones to blame.

  6. DR

    ehhh?

    "many students choose degrees different to those they preferred – and in which they would be really good in many cases"

    how could they be good at the subject if they didn't like and couldn't do maths?

  7. Arnold Lieberman
    Thumb Down

    Sad

    @Pete, @Luke

    Your responses are a sad indication of where education has, in general, gone wrong in the last 30 years (and I speak as someone who left school in 1991). What's so bad about taking on a challenge? People have been brought up to think that everything should be easy/unchallenging or it isn't worth doing. And being seen to be wrong about anything is the worst crime, so it's better to do a soft degree. On the positive side, this is going to allow Indian, Chinese and Eastern European people to bring more wealth to their countries as they will be the only people who can do "hard" subjects during the next 30 years.

    And we wonder why incompetence is so rife amongst the civil service/government/big business! Most civil servants and senior "bankers" come equipped with degrees in English and history, great for academia and teaching the next generation about... english or history but fundamentally useless for anything that requires logical deduction or analysis. I don't think it is a coincidence that the most successful periods in our history were when engineers (proper ones) were admired and supported - you know, people who could DESIGN things and do the calculations by hand, as opposed to today where opinion and spin are all.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    @Liam

    If you'd said "How many people use Fourier transforms in their day-to-day personal lives" I'd have almost agreed with your last point. But I use simultaneous equations quite frequently in my day-to-day life, so I can't.

    And maths / technical degrees definately do not = being a virgin singleton for life- and it's pretty funny seeing someone with a computing qualification slagging off anyones' chances with the opposite sex.

    Anyway, how do you know that they were virgins? For all you know they could have been spending 8 hours teaching quadratic equations, 12 hours with their partners keeping them as hard as one :P

    When taught properly, Maths can be one of the most interesting fields in the world- by "taught properly" I mean when it's intertwined with Physics and Engineering. You get to see how the world was designed and you build up a good picture of how the world works. You start to appreciate the beauty of a good design, the ingenuity behind a solution to a problem, the elegance behind an arcing projectile, the infinite billowing complexities of the small-scale motions of the particles in a mushroom cloud- and the similarities behind that and the motion of a crowd or a river.

    With good Maths/phys/eng teaching, the world becomes one massive, beautiful system and you have a vastly deeper understanding of it than any sociology degree with its high-level abstracted concepts could ever hope to give you.

    Unfortunately, it's rare to find a maths teacher who actually sees this inherent beauty; it's not so much that the subject of maths that scares off kids so much as the boring buggers they get to teach it and that they keep "pure" maths as a distinct concept rather than tying it up with phys/eng/real life.

  10. Steven Jones

    @Liam

    A standard old line about why did I learn quadratic equations etc. yet I've never used the, That is making the classic mistake of treating mathematics like a set of tools and there's no point in leaarning the ones you'll never use. It is much, much more than that. At the core of mathematics is logic - it is at the very heart of rational analysis. It provides the tools by which problems can be modelled, that logical dependencies can be understood. It is a method of turning real world problems into a useful model. It is at the very core of logical thinking in a formal sense. That people generally can't do these things is the cause of so much poor decision making. It enables trivial increases in risks to be characterised in newspapers as major issues, simply because of the way of presentation.

    Maths is not taught to an uneccessarily high level - it's a sad fact that plenty of superficial twats around don't understand why it is so important. That people can't do maths to an acceptable level puts into doubt that they are able to reason in an objective and logical sense. Which is maybe why so much persuasive argument is done through emotion.

  11. Ray
    Flame

    Fool

    I'm guessing this means that Liam doesn't know the value of Pi has decreased over time. Now that he does, however, he should be able to deduce that circles were bigger in the olden days.

    Finger painting FTW.

  12. P Saunders
    Paris Hilton

    Explains all those "social media" degrees

    Nice to have a masters in something that doesn't involved math, like burger flipping.

    Paris, 'cause I wanna be her master in everything

  13. Julian I-Do-Stuff
    Coat

    Impure Mathematics

    Maths is boring because they never get round to the interesting, weird and creative bits...

    I mean, how could you not find this riveting:

    "How, if at all, is this stuff related to the Joyal-Tierney theorem showing that Grothendieck topoi are all categories of sheaves on localic groupoids?" [To quote John Baez, in the context of First Order Logical Duality, posing a question I think could be committed to heart and uttered as words of wisdom in any/all tedious meetings... just to liven things up a little]

    but then I'm biased: I think trying to get Mathematica to solve a set of seven simultaneous transcendental Diophantine equations is fun.

    I would ask for my outdoor clothes but our belovedly Evil Moderatrix (are your boots shiny enough yet, Mistress?) would probably chastise me...

  14. A J Stiles

    @ Liam

    "after all maths has no room for interpretation - its always a right/wrong answer."

    LOL true dat. There's no subjectivity in maths, no room to pretend you're special. No matter how many times you repeat it or how loudly you shout it, no matter how big a hissy fit you throw and no matter whom you try to bribe, 2 + 2 will never equal 5. Reality is not malleable; it exists independently of you, and doesn't give a flying one whether you like it or not.

    That, in its own way, is beautiful. Maths is a domain beyond manipulation or corruption, which no spoilt brat with an over-inflated ego and a sense of entitlement can bend to their own whims and caprices. And that is what I suspect really gets up people's bottoms.

  15. Waggers
    Stop

    I'm with Pete

    I studied maths at uni for 4 years and have a masters in it - yet I would show symptoms "such as tension, nervousness, concern, worry, edginess, impatience, confusion, fear and mental block" when asked to tackle mathematical tasks in such circumstances too. It's not maths people fear, it's tests, exams and experiments like this one.

  16. Paul
    Boffin

    Something occoured to me

    The other day...

    I was watching a program on BBC 2 about Alan Davis and maths. They talked about school maths being like Gramma, and real maths. Perhaps it is time that we started teaching there big ideas in Maths and science, as we do in English. I am not sugesting we scrap the basics, just add in some disscution and interest. Tell the children about the theory of Space Time, or the concept of Bran physics. Use infomation about the LHC. Even basic stuff like building model bridges and the like rather than just sitting copying off the board. Perhaps then we would not just get more of them interested but also remove some of the fear of science (Ohhh... EM radiation. Its radiation. BAD!!!!) from the world.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Liam

    I have studied maths as part of an engineering degree ( a major part I hasten to add).

    Whilst it is true for me that I haven't had to sit down and solve any simultaneous differential equations or go through the process of evaluating the fourier spectrum of an electrical waveform to find out what the frequency components are, there is no doubt, that equipment I have used, software packages on the computer do these things for us, and my having an understanding of all the concepts ( from Lapace transforms in control theory, to fourier transforms, the integration, the differentiation, the classic differential equation that used be taught in A' level maths of a bath filling up with water with the plug hole uncovered,) all this has helpe me understand the real world and has made me better in my technical jobs I have had over the years.

    So I disagree that with you that it is useless.

  18. Steve

    @ Liam

    "maybe they just find maths BORING and uninteresting. after all maths has no room for interpretation - its always a right/wrong answer."

    Let me guess - you got bored of getting the wrong answer.

    "to me maths is taught to an unnecessarily high standard anyway. how many people have actually used simultaneous equations by elminination since leaving school?"

    So you're conflating what you learn with the standard to which you learn it and then stirring it a good helping of missing the point. It's a pity that they didn't teach you English to the same high standard that you were taught maths. You don't learn simultaneous equations so that you can then go around doing simultaneous equations everyday. It teaches abstract logical skills which are clearly in short supply in the general population. You learn it to a high degree of accuracy because a) in maths, if it's not accurate, it's wrong & b) no-one wants their kids being taught by a maths teacher who says "you'll never need it at McDonalds so don't worry about putting too much effort in".

    However, I do think that describing this as "mathematical anxiety" is a bit of a cop out - it's innumeracy.

    @ Destroy All Monsters

    "An economist would say that they actually chose degress that they preferred as having some math in the curriculum actually lowered the preference ranking of the other degrees. So be it. Enjoy your toothless sociology."

    Mr Kettle, meet Mr Pot. Economics is simply the branch of sociology that deals with people trading items and the fact that they use more numbers does not make it anymore of a science.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Huh?

    I though April Fool's was yesterday? Stupid particle accelerator....

  20. Mark
    Go

    maths

    Didn't read the article, just saw the word "maths", got scared and skipped here to voice my outrage.

    Seriously though, I love maths, it's people that put me on edge. I'd do the same if I went on a sociology degree. So I didn't. I suck at painting, so I didn't do an art degree either.

    Maybe the article should be reversed - about half of all people don't fear maths! That's higher than I'd have expected.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Maths n computers

    Done a BSc in Comp Sci, Doing an MSc in Computer Forensics, in both cases maths skills essential.

    However in both cases the lecturers were Vietnamese/Chinese/Japanese, their first language being local national, second language being maths, third language english.

    No disrespect here, but after three blackboards full of complex maths of mathamatical proof that an algorithm works floowed by statements of "its easy" really ain't helpful.

    To be fair, statements of "can you go back to the first formula on the first blackboard" didn't really help me either.

    Of least help was the first exam question on every paper for the past five years (and on the paper I sat), which not only did I not understand, but was not possible to solve! (asked a Phd maths bod about the past papers, he commented on a "fundimental missunderstanding on the lecturers part").

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Liam

    <quote>its always a right/wrong answer</quote>

    You've never worked with actuaries before then - or paid attention in English class either, it appears!

  23. Julian I-Do-Stuff
    Joke

    @Stiles

    2 + 2 will never equal five?

    Alas, 'tis untrue! 2+2 = 5... for sufficiently large 2.

  24. mad clarinet
    Coat

    Not surprised

    I work at a university - and most of the students I deal with aren't able to do even simple maths. They mostly go for their mobile 'phone calculators or have a wild guess.....

    After discussing this with people I know who work in similar positions in several universities we have come to the conclusion that they have all been give very substandard maths teaching (ie, this is how to pass the exam). Instead of the real world stuff they need.....

    Okay, I'll get my coat. Mines the one with the 'long serving uni it techie' logo on....

  25. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
    Anonymous Coward

    umm

    @Julian: I'd be inclined to spring that sentence on my boss in a meeting some day--save that matters much more directly relevant to our work would produce the same effect.

    @Rota: One of the interesting effects of prosperity in Japan is that fewer kids want to be engineers. In my parents' generation of the family there were a metallurgist, a physicist, a geologist, and a biologist: their offspring ran proportionally more to lawyers and finance types.

  26. mark Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    @liam - you have kicked up a storm! well done :)

    " after all maths has no room for interpretation - its always a right/wrong answer."

    i.e hard, ooh run away......

    how do you survive in IT?

  27. Luther Blissett

    Luther loves maths - he can sit and watch it for hours

    althought the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem which takes 4 days to explain seems a bum-numbing experience too far.

    OTOH Luther will go a long way for a tasty bit of metamathematics, and wonders if therein lies the problem - that the problem with maths is basically as simple as that it is taught as a problem (then another (then another (then another))) - a- recursion without an exit condition, bar choosing a different subject.

    The "equality" agenda operative in education doesn't help either. But determinism and causality are no part of mathematical reasoning (the last time I listened to the BBC).

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    @ Paul

    Not in the UK, but a friend of mine who has a masters in maths left your shores for Ireland because her kids would get a more rigorous mathematical training with the Irish school curriculum than the current British one.

    If you dumb it down further the students will arrive into college with "pop-science" level knowledge of several fascinating fields and their lecturers will be bust teaching them differentiation from first principles or similar.

    By all means tie maths and physics/engineering together and show the kids that the boring theory stuff is the equivalent of the gym work that Mssrs Rooney et al do prior to the amazing feats of athleticism they weekly perform.

    However the prospect of similar remuneration would also help and sadly the arts/business faculty seem to be in charge of most nations today

  29. Evil Graham

    @Liam

    "how many people have actually used simultaneous equations by elminination since leaving school?"

    I have.

    I had to help my daughter with some GCSE maths homework.

  30. A J Stiles
    Heart

    @AC 12:18

    "By all means tie maths and physics/engineering together and show the kids that the boring theory stuff is the equivalent of the gym work that Mssrs Rooney et al do prior to the amazing feats of athleticism they weekly perform."

    Best. Comment. Ever.

    Is there a Reg equivalent of the Molly? I'd nominate you for one in a heartbeat.

  31. Liam
    Heart

    haha... chill out people!

    lmao... i was only trying to take the piss :)

    im just talking from the perspective of the maths professionals i have known. all complete social rejects - and all the men still lived at home! this includes my old school maths teacher... and he was in his 50s! many of you may well have masters in maths... well done.

    yes i went into IT... mainly when there was a massive shortfall quite a few years ago. i didnt do any IT at school!

    as a developer i use maths to a certain extent, working out dimensions etc on the fly and the obvious calcs needed to develop accountancy apps for our company. i just dont understand why so much emphasis is put on maths at school. i was actually quite good at it until it relied on my memory (always been bad).

    for me kids should learn politics, social science (not the useless general studies etc) and things that help them in later life at school. most kids just arent prepared at all for adult life, and i dont think calculus etc will help them 1 bit. of course maths has been so dumbed down now i guess most of the complex areas have been dropped over the years anyway.

    @ "Let me guess - you got bored of getting the wrong answer."

    - nope.. i just got bored of learning pointless things. and i can use English perfectly well thanks, i just abbreviate as im at work and dont want to spend time thinking of the best way to get my thoughts down. i apologise if i dont use a capital letter at the start of my sentences, or add apostrophes. if im writing a paper etc i might actually re-read what i write and turn it into nice prose for you, but to be honest a) i dont care [see i didnt use a ' then! i just dont care [i did it again!]] b) who am i trying to impress? i have better things to do and im actually writing this at the same time as taking a phone call!

    if you want me to go through your old posts and rip the english to bits i am more than capable. now, lets take the comments as i meant them, jokingly and mocking my old school/college/uni teachers. there is no need to have hissy fits. also, to the people doing maths degrees etc (i dont include engineering here - i come from a family of engineers) are you SERIOUSLY telling me that at Uni all your classmates were fanny magnets? honestly?

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Idiots!

    6 out of 10 students to be are idiots then!

  33. Steven Jones

    @mark

    "how do you survive in IT?"

    There are plenty of highly-paid snake oil merchant espousing the latest bit of received wisdom amply illustrated with fashoinable buzz-phrases and flashing of Power Point slide sets. The end up in management when they realise they are neither interested or competent in the technical side of IT. There job then becomes one of causinging great pain to the rest of us. They also probably never saw the need to learn how to solve simultaneous equations.

  34. Peter Fielden-Weston
    Coat

    Re : Arnold Lieberman

    "People have been brought up to think that everything should be easy/unchallenging or it isn't worth doing."

    I agree with your overall statement but not the last bit "…or it isn't worth doing."

    For many years our educators (can't call them teachers because teachers would know better) have decided that children shouldn't fail. AT ANYTHING. The easiest way to do this was by not placing the kids into a competitive situation, by reducing the attainment levels so that anyone could meet them, by feeding the kids the precise knowledge required to pass a test. All of this isn't education, its just training.

    While the educators have, overall, been successful in their quest at removing failure, they have also removed successes.

    They have taken away the feeling of accomplishment when a difficult task or skill is learnt, they have removed a strong impetuous to improvement, they have destroyed some kids soaring achievements just because not everyone could reach the same heights. They have removed the kids pride in attainment. In their rush to prevent anyone “losing” they have prevented everyone from winning.

    So now the products of our education system will be wondering why they can't walk straight from school into a well paid, exciting job, why, if they do get a job which doesn't involve smiling a lot and plastic stars on their name badge, their colleagues treat them with (almost) contempt for the first couple of years. After all they haven't ever failed before so why can't they succeed now? How are the kids going to cope in the real world which doesn’t really care about their poor bruised feelings.

    Recently I have spent time talking to one of my (an honourary) grandchild. She is due to leave school soon and is expected to gain 4 or 5 reasonable GCSEs. Unfortunately she is as thick as two short planks strung end to end. An essay produced by her for her English GCSE course work was about three quarters of an A4 page in length, with poor handwriting, atrocious spelling and almost nonexistent punctuation. She expected good marks for that piece of cra^W course work. Her chances of gaining the desired gainful employment is only a little less than that of finding an honest politician. And she will have a certificate saying that she obtained a good standard in four or five subjects. Subjects that she cannot discuss to any reasonable degree. She doesn’t have the very basic skills that are needed for her to properly start her adult life. She has “succeeded” in her schooling. In business she would have been considered a failure and removed years ago.

    My primary / secondary schooling ended in ’67. Though I did not sit any exams or gain any qualifications then. I could recite the times tables without thought. Read and comprehend what I was reading. Write structured sentences to communicate my ideas. And, most importantly of all, I knew how to learn. I have since gained an MSc and have since been working in technically difficult, and monetarily rewarding, areas. I have used quadratics at work, and Fourier transforms. Though the only split infinitive I know is the one from Star Trek.

    Mines the one with TWO Daily Mail’s in the pocket.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And everyone misses the point

    You can use mathematics as weapon, no more jibe talking in the ring, instead wrestlers will be setting each other maths problems, oh watch the sparks fly then.

  36. Frank Silver badge

    @AC 11:40 re. @Liam

    "You get to see how the world was designed ...."

    You're treading on dangerous ground there. Be careful :)

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    @Liam

    Please can you let me know which buildings you were involved in the construction of so that I can avoid entering them as they are most likely to fall on my head. Newton was a clever bloke who came up with some interesting maths about how things might fall down !

    PS I was taught in the 70s/80s which did include times tables, maybe you were too bored and didn't notice, numpty. You didn't pay attention in English either as you have no clue as to what a capital letter is. Here are a few for you

    MORON

  38. Liam
    Heart

    ffs.....

    @ {

    " after all maths has no room for interpretation - its always a right/wrong answer."

    i.e hard, ooh run away......

    how do you survive in IT?

    }

    you also missed my point, i like working in flexible environments. where there is no correct answer - its how you get there. i specialise in leftfield thinking. if i just wanted to regurgitate memorised formulas i would never have started smoking pot so much.

    also, i work for myself freelance 1 day and work as an IT developer 4 days a week. i am also lucky enough not to work with any IT people. i work in construction company ( i have a construction background also and was almost an architect before i realised 7 years to get qualified would have meant working hard - and im too lazy for that) so they are easy to get on with.

    dont get me wrong, i have worked in IT departments but they arent the place i want to spend my time. nice people but little in common to be honest. i dont live for IT or anything work related.

    oh shit, i bet ive stirred it up again!

    oh well :)

  39. Sean Kennedy

    Re:Liams

    Surely you realize the huge secondary purpose of a mathematical education; the core foundations of logic and rational thought. Give me two people similarly educated, except where one studied math the other did not. I guarantee you the one who studied math will be able to reason out new situations much faster than the other.

    Further, math shouldn't be a big scary thing. This study is just more evidence about how our education system is failing the students. Given most teachers I talk to are scared of math too, it's not hard to figure out where the students inherit this fear from.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reminds me ...

    I was asked by a CompSci grad how to do a weighted average. I was actually quite shocked and thought I'd imagined him asking this. Sadly, he turned out to be the rule rather than the exception.

    It explains much about the declining standards and quality of software.

    How the f*** is this even *possible*? It beats the shit out of me how people get to O-level, never mind university entrance level.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    iR HAVE DA SMARTZ EVN DO i CARNT SPELL

    If a time-travelling day-trip full of Maths and English students from the '70s & '80s suddenly turned up and read these comments, they'd snigger their socks off and call half of you a big bunch of illiterate Spastics and would then most likely kick your arses for it. Maybe even some Jif Lemon in the face. Ah happy days....

    Even the twats in those days could at least add up and write a sentence. These days, all I read is whining and defensiveness and some kind of proud victim-mentality: "I'm not thick, I'm special! I've got Dyslexia/Dyscalculus/ADD etc.!, Look it says so here. So why won't you gave me the job?"

  42. Chris

    @AC 11:40

    "Unfortunately, it's rare to find a maths teacher who actually sees this inherent beauty"

    So true, all of the eng.maths lecturers I encountered during my electronics degree may well have known the subject inside and out at a technical level, but they had no clue how to make their lectures any more interesting or engaging than simply spending an hour in the library reading through a maths text book... Indeed, so bad was the lecturer we got lumbered with in our first year, that many of us ended up relying on the recommended textbook (Engineering Mathematics by Ken Stroud - a classic amongst engineering texts, and one I still fall back on from time to time in my professional life) to teach us what we needed both to pass the exams and understand all the maths being thrown at us in the other lectures.

    On the other hand, my A-level years were made eminently enjoyable thanks to the one and only Chris Cook, a maths teacher who didn't just understand the subject but REALLY knew how to deliver it. I still can't forget the day he decided to bring his bike into the classroom to give us a practical demonstration of forces and moments, which concluded with him hopping onto the saddle and cycling off down the corridor... Then there was the time he explained vectors with lengths of washing line strung across the classroom and an orange (to represent the origin, of course). A true master of his subject, and one of many such gifted teachers (all of who, with the exception of my drama teacher, were in the science/engineering subjects - most of the arts and all of the humanities teachers I had really didn't help to make those subjects anything more than tolerable) I was fortunate to encounter during my formative years.

    On the wider point of the UK needing more sci/eng people in positions of power - surely the level of intelligence required to become even a half-decent scientist or engineer means we'd be overqualified for the role of politician...

  43. Markie Dussard
    Happy

    @Liam

    Quite apart from your ignorance of both Maths and English, I have to take issue with your sociological assertions too:

    "maths degree = single for life, probably a virgin all your life and still live with your mum"

    My wife holds a First in Mathematics and definitely doesn't live anywhere near her Mum. You'll have to take my word on the lack of virginity.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    @Liam

    So much of school level maths is directly relevant to the real world. The following, non-exhaustive list, consists of things that I have seen many people seriously struggle with. Calculating the number of tiles to tile the bathroom. Adjusting a recipe for 6 people to feed 4. Understanding that stopping your car is 4 times as hard at twice the speed. How about figuring out how much a loan is costing, splitting the cost between capital and interest, or figuring out what implication putting a Christmas bonus onto the mortgage has. How about gambling odds, maybe getting better at poker, etc.

    Of course, in many ways the way Maths is taught at school doesn't enable people to think of those sorts of things very quickly. Also, the encouragement to learn maths is poor at best. When I was thinking of what degree to do, I shunned maths solely because I didn't think there were jobs in it. How wrong I was. If I had known about quantitative finance, or actuarial work, or many other areas I would have studied maths at university without a moment's thought. That is the biggest failure. Kids like me who loved nothing more than maths end up studying other things because of the way it is presented.

  45. Liam

    had enough now...

    @ {

    "Please can you let me know which buildings you were involved in the construction of so that I can avoid entering them as they are most likely to fall on my head. Newton was a clever bloke who came up with some interesting maths about how things might fall down !

    PS I was taught in the 70s/80s which did include times tables, maybe you were too bored and didn't notice, numpty. You didn't pay attention in English either as you have no clue as to what a capital letter is. Here are a few for you

    MORON"

    }

    ok, i WAS being nice (albeit a bit piss taking - thats me im affraid)...

    1) architects dont design for tollerances, that is what a civil engineer does, you condecending prick. architects DESIGN the building, then pass it on to a structural/civil engineer to make sure the thing works. Architect = design, concept, aesthetics, ergonomics and ideas. Engineer = make it work (and sometimes design). i also said that i have quals in structural engineering too, i just dont enjoy the subject.

    2) i said before i dont care if i start a sentence with a capital. does it matter? are you so dumb that you need to see a capital before you know its a new sentence? how do you cope in the modern world now that capitals arent used all the time? i guess text messages are just like hebrew to you?

    typical anon response too - pussy, if you call me a moron at least stand up for yourself and not hide behind an anon post.

    so, you are telling me that i was taught times tables at school? funny. i didnt see you there? maybe you were hiding in a cupboard. my school was actually very liberal, they didnt cater much for curriculums etc. maybe a reason i found maths dull at school?

    of course the way things were taught helps a lot. by the 3rd year at school i was straight 'A's for maths as we had a great teacher, he enthused us all. he lasted a year then it was back into text-book learning. i.e. copy this out of a text book and answer the questions. for me, that isnt teaching! and maybe that is why so many peopel find maths dull?! make something interesting and people will want to learn. i mean ffs johnny ball was amazing when i was younger, why couldnt school be more like that?

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    @Frank

    Yeah, I should have rephrased that to "The way the world we've built around us was designed" or "the design of the modern world" or something similar

    Actually, my original point still stands even if you accept the meaning as ID; you'd be able to see the very hand of God in the numbers if you looked close enough at the world around you. If you can't, then He has not had an effect, meaning He doesn't affect the real world, meaning that- for all intents and purposes- God doesn't exist.

    So there- Maths: Either it's capable of describing God Himself and how He works his diving magic or God doesn't exist (or has nothing to do with us). That's pretty impressive- no wonder people are scared of it!

  47. Martin Silver badge

    All school subjects are useless

    I learnt all about gaciers in Geography but day to day I hardly ever have to make one.

  48. Liam
    Heart

    fair point...

    @{

    So much of school level maths is directly relevant to the real world. The following, non-exhaustive list, consists of things that I have seen many people seriously struggle with. Calculating the number of tiles to tile the bathroom. Adjusting a recipe for 6 people to feed 4. Understanding that stopping your car is 4 times as hard at twice the speed. How about figuring out how much a loan is costing, splitting the cost between capital and interest, or figuring out what implication putting a Christmas bonus onto the mortgage has. How about gambling odds, maybe getting better at poker, etc.

    }

    Yes, these things are useful and i easily can do all of them. Maybe if maths was taught in a more lifelike, applied style more people would find it interesting. I found physics a much more enjoyable subject, maybe due to its more applied style? As i said before i was taking the piss about the virgin thing, maths obviously negates a sense of humour sometimes?

    Anyway, i will leave you to your discussion now. Apologies to anyone who didn't get the joke on the first post! Oh, by the way, i have bothered with grammar for this one, just in case some of you can't still read a sentence without capitals.

  49. Glyph

    Math is hard, teachers matter

    I've always hated math. To this day when I try to read a paper my eyes slide around the equations and when I force them back I start getting sleepy. I can only guess its some sort of protection system. I remember when studying for calc3 (greens theorem surface integrals, vector calc stuff) I would feel great right up until I started and then feel like I hadn't slept in days. I really have no idea how to undo this, my job uses math (and statistics) heavily and I am very excited about finding new ways to use math as a tool, but the fatigue is ingrained and seemingly inexorable. Having someone who is also excited about the applications of the math to explain things really makes the difference for me. My favorite math text is "numerical recipes in..." the thing is written by engineers for engineers. Trying to go back and read my old math textbooks now that I firmly understand the stuff, I can see why I had trouble, even the ones that are acknowledged to be the "best" are terrible as anything but a reference.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    @Liam

    stop digging ...

    your initial comment made you sound like an imbecile

    subsequent ones make you sound like an arsehole

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Speaking as a computer science postgrad

    I have to say that of the subjects I took in school, Latin has done a lot more for me than Maths. Maths you get catch-up lessons on but nobody teaches you to intuitively understand a good amount of jargon the way a Latin GCSE does.

    Maths, I was taught more in one week at undergrad level than in gcse and a-level classes combined. Specifically, I could integrate and derive at the end of the week.

  52. AC

    @Liam

    Right. Enough of this. I've had it to the teeth with listening to your ill-informed nonsense.

    1) The study of Mathematics and Science teaches the importance of care and rigour in presenting arguments.

    2) You should not need to rely on your memory for math - most relevant equations can be quickly derived from first principles

    3) School is a training ground providing you with the basic tools for the modern world. Many students will go on to be scientists, engineers and researchers (both academic and commercial). They will all need maths.

    4) Politics and argument without an understanding of rational reasoning and science? That is dangerous. Very dangerous. Take a look at England: Politicians with degrees in Law and Political Studies. Now look at China: Politicians with PhD's in Engineering and Mathematics. Draw your own conclusions... actually I fear you cannot. So let me spell it out: Our economy is tanking, China's is growing furiously. The reason? An objective approach to governance versus the endless prevarication and evasion we witness on a daily basis.

    5) There are many aspects of IT. Customer services do not need mathematics. Those writing drivers for audio or video hardware do. Those writing software for medical analysis need a broad understanding of statistical techniques. So don't give me your "I don't use it so it's useless" spiel.

    As for your obsession with mathematicians being virgins - ridiculous! Demonstrably untrue.

    Let me recap, in case you're attention has wandered: Math in school provides students with an essential toolkit they will need if they wish to persue careers in Engineering or Science. We need engineers and scientists. School prepares you for life. If you choose a different career, this does not give you the right to rubbish the tools you chose not to use.

    Now kindly can it.

  53. Steve
    Boffin

    @Liam

    "i said before i dont care if i start a sentence with a capital. does it matter?"

    It depends on your values and the values of your audience

    "are you so dumb that you need to see a capital before you know its a new sentence? "

    All written communication contains an element of craftmanship, and it reflects the cares and values of the author. If writing were food then you would be Pot Noodle and I prefer Phad Thai.

    "how do you cope in the modern world now that capitals arent used all the time? i guess text messages are just like hebrew to you?""

    No, when you read my words you hear a voice in your head, and it's controlled by my punctuation. Quite a bit like music/singing, in other words. When I read TXT SPK it sounds like Robbie the Robot shouting emotionlessly. When I read your words, you sound like every half-baked oaf I've ever met (which is a lot: I too work in engineering / construction.). Maybe I'm completely wrong, but first impressions, eh?

  54. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Where's the maths angle?

    These findings are blindingly obvious. Try getting a random selection of university students to do GCSE-level exercises in ANY subject other than the ones they clung onto at A-level and you'll find that the majority find the experience stressful. In most cases, we were glad to give up those subjects when we could.

    The authors, for example, clearly gave up science at an early stage in their education because they were no bloody good at it. The notion of alternative hypothesis appears to have past them by, for example.

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    @ Liam

    "1) architects dont design for tollerances, that is what a civil engineer does, you condecending prick. architects DESIGN the building, then pass it on to a structural/civil engineer to make sure the thing works. Architect = design, concept, aesthetics, ergonomics and ideas. Engineer = make it work (and sometimes design). i also said that i have quals in structural engineering too, i just dont enjoy the subject."

    You, sir, are a "condescending prick". My dad is a retired architect, and I can guarantee you he designed for tolerances, specified which materials would work and deal with relevant loads etc. But back then architects would do more than just "design, concept, aesthetics, ergonomics and ideas". They were (and possibly some still are) engineers not just glorified CAD operators/crayon scribblers. Sounds like you are unable to deal with anything that requires actual hard graft. Fail.

  56. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    Happy

    RE: Liam

    Actually, one of my maths teachers was an absolute hottie on the Sharon Stone scale. I didn't learn much maths but I certainly enjoyed a lot of the summer lessons!

  57. Tim
    Stop

    Maths

    Most people don't need maths skills for their degree. In Media Studies does it matter if you can solve a hard simultaneous equation, perform a fourier transform? Even Dimensional Analysis is beyond the scope of what most people will use day to day.

    I'm an MPhys student. I know my way around maths. If your subject doesn't require it is it important that someone doing a less rigourously mathematical course knows these things.

    That said Why is it that these days there are so many people studying subjects that have no need for maths? What value do these degrees have in the world? There can only be so many Sports "Scientists" and other (joke) graduates.

    What is going to happen in a few years time when the market is flooded with people with worthless degrees with no maths. Even now I've seen professors of Geography producing graphs without error bars, which are effectively meaningless as a result. Will our standards just get lower to match the graduates, or will they have to go and get proper degrees to be emploed in a decent job?

  58. Liam

    OK, OK, i concede...

    @ Matt Bryant - You lucky git! i had all male maths teachers after the first year, and she was an absolute beast! I could smell her B.O. from the back row!

    @ Steve - Fair point. But does the exclusion of a capital letter REALLY make reading that much worse? I truly apologise for being slightly dyslexic and very lazy. I will attempt to make an effort at El Reg in the future, in regards to capitalisation :) i Must admit i hate TXT SPK too, surely it is more complicated to write in TXT SPK on modern predictive text phones? But, 'half baked oaf', come on, surely I'm not that bad, am I? haha.

    I will also try not to make jokes about mathematicians in the future. It's funny that i make a comment like that yet in the PS3 discussion so many people are saying much worse about game players yet we all seem to take it with a pinch of salt.

  59. Peter Kay

    Can't blame the students really

    Rational choice : a decision between a hard maths based subject that has little chance of a job (in the field), a high chance of failure and social stigma vs an easier non maths based subject that has none of those disadvantages.

    Sod 'doing it for the challenge' - you can do *that* in your spare time, instead of possibly failing whilst gathering three years of student debt and no prospect of quickly paying it back.

    Of course there's a difference between a realistic challenge which you think you can manage, and one that stretches you beyond breaking point. If you're doubtful about whether you can manage the level set at the beginning of a degree, it's almost certain you won't manage in future years.

    On the other hand the statement "many students choose degrees different to those they preferred – and in which they would be really good in many cases – in order to avoid studying subjects connected with Mathematics'" is an interesting one.

    How do they know the students would be good - did they actually perform better than expectations, despite nerves? It's no use being good at all the subject except the maths component.

    I'll certainly agree about maths teaching being poor. I was taught my times table (in the 70s), but can't remember being told about weighted averages - despite going through maths at school, college and university level, doing a short session on stats (which at least covered averages, means and standard deviations) and lots of lessons on integration, vectors, analogue electronics and heat transfer along materials (the last one made my brain explode).

    I reserve particular contempt for my university maths teacher who taught at an incredible rate, had incomprehensible (hand written) notes and was zero help in assisting with problems. Reading Engineering Mathematics instead of going to the lectures would have been more helpful.

    Still, so long as the average mathematician and engineer is poorly paid and finds it difficult to find a job, the situation will not change. As a country we should reward decent engineering, technology and mathematical theory, but we don't.

  60. anarchic-teapot

    Re: iR HAVE DA SMARTZ EVN DO i CARNT SPELL

    "If a time-travelling day-trip full of Maths and English students from the '70s & '80s suddenly turned up and read these comments, they'd snigger their socks off and call half of you a big bunch of illiterate Spastics and would then most likely kick your arses for it. Maybe even some Jif Lemon in the face. Ah happy days...."

    Apart of course from the fact that none of us was ignorant enough to use the term "spastic" as an insult, nor yobbish enough to use ascorbic acid as a weapon. And literal arse-kicking was restricted to the karate club, while metaphorical arse-kicking was beneath us.

    Travelling in time... well yes, same way as everyone else. We're not dead yet, you know.

  61. John Savard Silver badge

    Discovering the Obvious

    Maths courses are demanding, and there are people out there who would have trouble getting a passing grade in them. Maybe we could teach mathematics in a way that explained things more clearly to help improve this situation.

    But that people who have trouble with math avoid subjects that require it is about as much a surprise as the fact that people who have trouble learning to play a musical instrument avoid that type of career, or those who aren't athletic don't pursue a career as a football player.

    Or is the discovery supposed to be that math is "scary" out of all proportion to how hard it really is? If that's what they think they've discovered, apparently competence in maths is not enough to guarantee your research results will always be valid.

  62. jake Silver badge

    The results aren't surprising.

    People in general can't do math(s), I'd have guessed at higher percentages.

    Look at how much money is spent on lotteries world wide. Look at how many people waste money gambling (cards, dice, horses, dogs, sports franchise of your choice). The odds are ALWAYS with the house, yet for some strange reason people think that they will eventually win.

    The mind boggles.

    Lottery: A tax on people who can't do math(s). --Snigglets (I think)

    Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe and not make messes in the house. -- Lazarus Long, "Time Enough for Love"

  63. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC

    "@Rota: One of the interesting effects of prosperity in Japan is that fewer kids want to be engineers. In my parents' generation of the family there were a metallurgist, a physicist, a geologist, and a biologist: their offspring ran proportionally more to lawyers and finance types."

    Yes, I can understand that. The offspring see how poorly paid their parents are as engineers and decide they want something better paid. My mother was a registered nurse for many years, her income was low, similarly, I wouldn't want to marry a nurse.

    But, you can' t beat how interesting engineering really is. How many people can say they've worked with things where the dimensions are many times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, that you can't even see with a naked eye, where you worry about time in millionth, millionths of a second.

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'd like to see ...

    Anyone without a good grasp of mathematic first principles design an operating system or work out file compression techniques or graphic file formats or, indeed, write real-time hardware device drivers. All of these are ordinary everyday aspects of computing and so, Liam, where do you think these things come from? Did they just spontaneously pop out of the head of man fully formed? Or perhaps were some analytical mathematics and engineering disciplines employed en route first?

    Must be great to be a God-like being who just needs to think something to make it become reality by magic!

    Recently I discovered that by using an application of Boolean Logic and set theory I could speed up my SQL queries by a factor of twelve. It just came to me in a flash. Hadn't thought much about either of those things for years but, they proved to be extremely useful.

    Remind me. What is it you do in IT again?

  65. Chris
    Happy

    @Matt Bryant

    "Actually, one of my maths teachers was an absolute hottie on the Sharon Stone scale. I didn't learn much maths but I certainly enjoyed a lot of the summer lessons!"

    Sounds like we could have gone to the same school, because that's a perfect description of the non-Cookie Monster half of my A-level maths teaching team... which is maybe why, despite learning plenty in his lessons, I only managed to get a B ;-)

  66. Peter Kay

    @Jake - lottery

    The lottery isn't necessarily a tax on people that can't do maths; it is possibly a tax on hope, however.

    Some people play because it's fun, because it doesn't cost much, and because the chance to win is non zero.

    Winning the lottery jackpot is less likely than being simultaneously hit by an asteroid and lightning, but at least if you buy a ticket your chance is above zero rather than absolutely zero (plus there are smaller prizes with merely lightning strike levels of probability).

    Winning other types of gambling (everything you mention, except dice) at least allows for a certain amount of skill and can sometimes be exploited by mathematicians. Of course, most people will not have the requisite amount of skill, and the few really talented players will find their ability to place bets curtailed (unless, by playing, they are bringing in money from other people..)

  67. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    Maths is easy-peasy

    It would surprise me if 100% of undergrad math students at uni showed dread, fluster, confusion, ... at the prospect of maths :)

    I remember one non-math postgrad observing that Math students in the cafeteria are easily identified by wide-eyed, stressed skin and on-edge appearance. But that is the fun of math yes?

    There seems to be a popular (mis)conception that math has to be easy. For a few that may be true but for the rest of us it usually presents an interesting opportunity to problem-solve within a defined framework of doability.

    In that sense, a bit like mountain climbing?, there is always an edge to the new math challenge. It may be exactly that that makes math hot and worth bothering about?

  68. vincent himpe

    Maybe if they would apply it to the study at hand

    I remeber from my schooldays. I hated math (i still do. if it can't be done using + - * / and the odd root or squre and a couple of logs, it isn't worth doing. period.)

    When i asked the teacher to give me aprtical example of some theorem. he started to explain it could be used to find the exact points to bend a metal plate to create a gutter with the maximum water throughput... i replied : i am studying electronics, i am not in metalshop 101..... and that was it. The teacher pulled a complete blank... he could not find an application in my field of interest.

    That is the main problem. Teach maths as they are applicable to a field of study. and if that field of study happens to be mathematics you can pull all stops out.

  69. jake Silver badge

    @Peter Kay

    "The lottery isn't necessarily a tax on people that can't do maths; it is possibly a tax on hope, however."

    I'll go along with that, but it's a false hope brought on by the inability to do math(s).

    "Some people play because it's fun, because it doesn't cost much, and because the chance to win is non zero."

    I could roll dollars (euros, pounds, whatever) down the gutter of a San Francisco hill, hoping to find that my coin lands where a bunch of other people's coins landed, and thus collecting the lot. Same outcome ... except I get the fun of watching the coin bounce down the street before some bum adds it to his booze fund. Your way, some bum adds it to his booze fund without the fun. Either way, the chance of a win is non-zero, but the realistic expectation of winning is zero.

    "Winning the lottery jackpot is less likely than being simultaneously hit by an asteroid and lightning, but at least if you buy a ticket your chance is above zero rather than absolutely zero (plus there are smaller prizes with merely lightning strike levels of probability)."

    See above. I'd rather invest in something likely to profit. I'll bet you'd make more profit over the space of a year purchasing 5 gallons of gas (petrol) and pushing a lawnmower around on weekends, knocking on doors and asking to mow lawns for a few quid. In fact, I know people who have put themselves thru' university my way ... and people who have been forced to drop out your way. My way provides exercise, fresh air & sunshine, too. Which is probably why more people prefer your way.

    "Winning other types of gambling (everything you mention, except dice) at least allows for a certain amount of skill and can sometimes be exploited by mathematicians."

    Uh-huh. Sure it can. Show me a rich gambler who isn't either effectively "the house", or has corporate sponsorship, which is pretty much the same thing. (As a side note, I can roll straight sevens all day long with an honest pair of dice, by hand, on a sidewalk or on felt. Give me a cup, and I'm about 75/25. Make me bank it, and I'm about 50/50 ...)

    "Of course, most people will not have the requisite amount of skill"

    Actually, none do. There are gamblers, and then there is "the house". In the afore mentioned back-alley craps game, I'm "the house", the rest are gambling.

    "and the few really talented players will find their ability to place bets curtailed (unless, by playing, they are bringing in money from other people..)"

    And that, my friend, is exactly how Lost Wages & Atlantic City, me in an alley[1], et alii, make a profit from people who can't do math. We are the house. You are the mark. Learn math(s).

    [1] No actual suckers have been taken during the typing of this post.

  70. E

    @Liam

    Oh, I dunno, I get a nice share of opportunity to map convex hulls and investigate concave manifolds.

  71. Moss Icely Spaceport
    Alert

    I predicted this 15 years ago

    In the near future we will lose the ability to properly build and maintain complex structures, equipment and devices.

    - Basically, Uni degrees are almost worthless.

    - These days Uni is now only about the pass-rate and cold hard cash.

    - Soon, Uni's will accept any old dolt, if he/she can pay

    In 200 years man will be re-discovering the wheel and fire all over again!

  72. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Liam - cease the abusive language and insults please

    x

  73. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Compare?

    I'd like to see how those figures compare with the stress [etc] shown when students are presented with questions from other fields. Might offer some perspective - if any perspective is to be had.

  74. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Heh

    Recalling some of the gunk I was taught in school and what I use today, the scale tips and crashes through the floor towards 'none of it'. Of all the years wasted in schools where I attended the mandatory maths classes included small amounts of every bloody subject ranging from simple addition/multiplication/division, binary/hexadecimal/algebra right up to business economy! What in the world were they thinking?!

    Funny thing was none of it was even remotely relevant to the actual coursework I was given, and I think that's the biggest problem with education nowadays. The subject matter just isn't coherent any more and it forces people out of the loop into becoming either an autodidact or be forever in the lower end of society because they can't keep up.

  75. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    To mis-quote Homer

    Mmmmmmmm, toroids; is there anything they can't do?

  76. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    erm, if you don't know your maths

    How are you truly going to be able to appreciate the scintillating delectibiliy of feminine curves?

  77. Peter Kay

    @Jake

    Whether or not it is a 'false hope' is an opinion, not a fact. It is /highly probable/ to be a fact, but due to it being a game of chance there is still the minimal possibility it is merely an opinion ;). Someone usually wins. It might be you. Thereby lies the hook that separates the players from their money.

    To use the accountancy term of 'opportunity cost', 52 quid is up for investment each year (one ticket a week). Let's say you invest it wisely and add 5% to that - so now there's 55 quid. Enough for an inexpensive meal for two, or a decent night out for one.

    The other possibility is that you enjoy the buying of the ticket and the possibility of winning, however unlikely that is, plus there's the remote possibility of an extremely favourable outcome.

    Your lawnmower argument isn't valid because it doesn't compare apples to oranges. The lottery requires minimal effort to enter - mowing a lawn and finding punters does not. Neither is rolling money down hills a good comparison as the chance of a point coin rolling into two and a half million quid is even more remote than winning the lottery..

    On the other hand, if you compare seriously studying horseracing vs mowing lawns you might have a point for most people.

  78. jake Silver badge

    @Peter Kay

    Whatever. If you enjoy throwing your money away, who am I to stop you? In fact, thanks for paying your good money to avoid increasing my taxes.

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