Letter: Probability problem

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The Independent Online
Sir: You call for education in risk assessment to enable the nation to make up its own mind whether it is worth indulging in T-bone steak, rather than being dictated to by the "nanny state" (Letter from the Editor, 6 December).

The 1989 version of the national curriculum did include probability, starting from age seven with the meanings of more and less likely, certain and impossible. It was Sir Ron Dearing, then the chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Agency, who championed, and achieved, the postponement of probability ideas to the later years of primary school.

Far from following your suggestion, the present government are now urging that the teaching of probability be removed from primary schools altogether. Ministers have also declared their intention to ban calculators from schools. The "nanny state" clearly does not trust teachers to use them sensibly, any more than it trusts the public to select a sensible diet. Presumably the few hours saved from teaching about probability will now be needed for extra practice in calculator-free long division.

Isn't it time there was a more public debate about which mathematical ideas and skills are really "basic" in relation to the needs of the citizens of the next century?


Professor of Mathematics


King's College, London