No stats in front of the children, please

The UK Schools Minister* has indicated that the role of statistics in maths education at primary school level will be greatly reduced, making way for more arithmetic.

In recent years, teaching statistics has become increasingly popular at many ages. My personal view is (necessary an unusual one as I am a professional statistician whose first degree was in maths) that the critical reasoning that is opened up by statistics is the real advantage a mathematical education will make for most people. Sure, some need to add up stuff in their heads quickly, but not so many of us nowadays rely on that to contribute effectively to society. Sure, some need a good dose of algebra, calculus and trig to be engineers or whatever. But the unique contribution from statistics is being able to think for yourself in public discourse about policy and evidence. That is very useful indeed – the caveat being that it is a different thing entirely to memorising the definition of a standard deviation or how to do a chi-squared test by hand. That sort of stuff is forgotten in the first week of the summer holidays, but the critical reasoning is what we really need. Imagine a generation that are not taken in by scary headlines about MMR and autism, or fooled by would-be politicians claiming that the Netherlands is now under sharia law. (Both got claimed, both were lies, some people still believe them.) So, OK, teach arithmetic. 7×8… that one still takes me a few seconds. But make sure you catch up on the stats at secondary school, and do it properly!

The only down side is that as they get more stats-savvy, future generations of university students will get less impressed by my lectures and will ask me questions I don’t know the answer to. Like 7×8…

* – grammar school educated, before you ask. And an accountant, which I contend is professionally very similar to being a statistician, but obviously uses a lot less brain power đŸ˜‰


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