Thursday, December 11, 2008


The striking thing about the list of questions from mathematics GCSE examination papers used by Mark Wadsworth in his recent poll is... Well, first, here are the questions:

Write five thousand four hundred and twenty four in figures
Write 41,980 to the nearest thousand
Write down the value of the 7 in the number 25,750
Write the number 7,180 in words
It's that none of them are maths questions, not even the one that involves rounding a number. They are questions that detect whether or not the examinee understands the notation we use for numbers. I suppose you could call them numeracy questions. The rounding question just establishes whether or not the student understands which of the figures are thousands and which are smaller and can therefore be replaced with zeros. As such it's similar to the following question, that is designed to find out whether the student knows that the third number along, counting from the right, is in the hundreds column. The first and last test whether the student can read out a number if they see it written in numerals, or write one down if it is dictated to them.

It's a form of very basic literacy - like testing whether or not a child knows their alphabet.

The GCSE is taken at the age of sixteen. These are questions that used to be given to children below the age of seven. It must be soul-destroying for any but the most remedial children to have to sit and answer these kinds of questions at the age of sixteen.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Ta for link. This sort of thing is terrifying.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago, Newsnight covered a similar topic with a piece on darts players. In the studio Paxo interviewed Jonny Ball, from "Think of a Number" fame. Jonny Ball tried disparately too explain to Paxo the difference between numeracy - what dartplayers do - and maths. It was beyond Paxo to grasp.

Anonymous said...

These questions really are set, and sat for, and many many teachers spend thousands of hours trying to teach what you list here: and answers are "attempted", by 16-year-olds.

I teach some. I know.

You would not believe the joy in their hearts when they get one of these (really hard) "sums" right. But that's just the ones who aspire to better things, who have been "down-setted" in earlier years because "they was naughty": the rest (the really really naughty ones) don't really care either way - for the Wireless Tele Vision Schedule for tonight is more pressing, and their "mates" are waiting for them, outside the school gates.

Yes, today's children have been tragically robbed. 100% of the important scientific and commercial posts of the 21st century will be filled by Chindians. this is inevitable since we slept on the job and allowed the Gramsco-Marxians to undo our culture and historiography for us, becuase they hated it, since it would terminally expose their dangerous isolation and lack of support among, er, all people.