Letters: Why teach advanced maths to those who won't need it?


There are two problems to do with maths education, it appears, and "experts" feel that these will be solved by making maths compulsory for everyone from ages 16 to 18 (report, 24 July).

One problem is that science and engineering students arrive at university without knowing the maths they will need for their disciplines.

The solution to this, obviously, is to teach more maths to science and engineering students, not to teach differential calculus to everyone else.

The other problem, we are told, is that many 16-year-olds still lack the level of numeracy required for citizenship in the modern world: they are "bewildered and bamboozled by numbers".To manage our lives and to avoid being bamboozled by the many organisations and authorities who would like to pull numerical wool over our eyes, we non-scientists actually need quite a limited range of mathematics.

Basic arithmetic, a little geometry, the ability to read graphs, some elementary statistics and a little probability theory will probably suffice. All of these things can, in principle, be learnt by 16.

And if we have failed to teach them to young people in the first 11 years of their schooling, the solution is to look critically at what happens over that period, not to add a further two useless years of the same.

Michael Swan

Didcot, Oxfordshire

IMF had answer to economic crisis in Nineties Asia

Your leading article ("Another blow to the Chancellor's strategy", 26 July) rightly states that "with so many economic indicators pointing different ways, the Chancellor must stick with Plan A for a while longer". The anti-austerity policy of the Opposition, as the East Asian experience of the 1990s amply demonstrates, is not the answer.

In 1998, during the depth of the Asian crisis, aggregate output (real GDP) in the Asean Five (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam) plunged by 8.3 per cent, and the real GDP in South Korea contracted by 5.7 per cent.

The IMF, with its tough conditionality of bailouts and adjustment programmes, stepped in. Within a few years, the current-account deficits averaging 4 per cent of GDP in 1996 swung into average surpluses of 6.8 per cent of GDP in 1998-99. A similar transformation came in South Korea, where a 2.8 per cent current-account deficit in 1996-97 became an 8.6 per cent surplus in 1998-99, and the region never looked back.

The structure of the UK economy may be slightly different, but the East Asian experience shows that austerity, coupled with structural reforms, can and does work. But that depends on finding a delicate balance between short-term palliatives and a long-term cure.

Randhir Singh Bains

Gants Hill, Essex

Taxpayers foot grouse-shoot bill

Terence Blacker laments that "... a government, run by the privileged and the privately educated, deprives the vast majority of children of the chance to play organised sport at school is a matter of national shame" (20 July).

What about the major taxpayer support given to grouse-shooting through unlimited "agricultural" inheritance tax relief and the EU's "agricultural" subsidies paid on moorland which carries a token number of sheep?

The total supports to the grouse moor owner are worth a hefty £6,000 per participant per day of sport. If we are to be "all in this together", the Prime Minister must address this problem among his subsidised rich chums.

Aidan Harrison

Rothbury, Northumberland

'Wiggins effect' is good for Britain

Allan Ramsay (letters, 24 July) should be rejoicing in Bradley Wiggins's fantastic achievement and the positive effect it will have on cycling in this country.

Department for Transport statistics show reported deaths of cyclists fell 111 in 2010 to 107 in 2011. We should be looking forward. Things are improving. There are more cyclists out there than ever. There is a wealth of training opportunities available for all ages and abilities. Subsidised and often free training is available to children aged 10 and over through Bikeability Level 2.

There is a major problem with obesity. We should therefore be encouraging and supporting people to have a more active life-style. There is risk associated with most activities but with cycling the health benefits outweigh the risk.

Judith Billingham

Melksham, Wiltshire

Suddenly, the Brits all love a cyclist. The hypocrisy of the Great British Public is breathtaking. a public I constantly hear vilify cyclists as the devil incarnate, blaming them because they don't pay road tax, cycle on pavements and jump red lights.

As a car driver and pedestrian (I'd never cycle; too many mad, bad and dangerous drivers) I applaud anyone brave enough to cycle. Cyclists are loved only when you win something that people feel they can glory in.

Sara Starkey

Tonbridge, Kent

The magic of the Western Isles

Michael McCarthy's panegyric on south Harris (26 July) took me, and I am sure many others, back many years to childhood and fields full of wild flowers and birds. I hope the law of unintended consequences does not bring about an invasion of the Western Isles, where I was stationed, during the Second World War. Let us have at least a small part as nature intended.

Bill Fletcher

Cirencester, Gloucester


Next time I read one of Joan Smith's occasional articles attacking football and its followers, I will remember that her idea of entertainment is to huddle in a toilet with like-minded girlies and jabber excitedly about clothes and lipstick (24 July). Most women I encounter have more cerebral interests.

Tim Matthews

Luton, Bedfordshire

Chancellor Cable

Lord Oakeshott is right about a new look at the economy (report, 26 July). In these perilous times for the British people we need a Chancellor with experience of the business world. Vince Cable has such experience. George Osborne does not. In the interests of the country, Mr Cable should now replace Mr Osborne as Chancellor. His appointment will not immedicately turn the economy from recession to growth but it will be a step in the right direction.

Valerie Crews

Beckenham, Kent