Many of the highest educated professionals and most senior employees in Britain can’t answer a GCSE level maths question utilising statistics, research from the Royal Statistical Society and the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA), has found.
In August, a YouGov poll asked 910 British professionals and managers to express the probability of getting two heads in a row when flipping a coin twice (the answer is 25%). The researchers found that less than half were able to answer it correctly – 44% and 32% respectively. The same professionals and managers were then asked if they felt confident working with numbers and again, less than half of both (41% and 46% respectively) said that they felt very confident.
The research follows on from a poll conducted in 2012, when the RSS asked a number of MPs the same question. More than half - 54% - failed to answer it correctly.
David Hare president of the IFoA, explains how a lack of statistical literacy is potentially damaging for the UK in all sectors. ‘Doctors need to be able to interpret drug trial results, HR professionals must understand national staff surveys, lawyers need to be able to interpret UK wide crime statistics, and psychologists need to be able to provide data as well as analysis,’ he said. ‘We need to look ahead and arm the next wave of professionals contributing to UK PLC with a firm foundation of statistical understanding across a breadth of subjects as well as basic mathematics and modelling. If we don’t, we’ll find that we are overtaken by professionals from other regions.’
Recommendations on how these issues can be addressed in the teaching of statistics at A-level in non-mathematic subjects will be set out in a new report, ‘A world full of data: Statistics opportunities across A-level subjects’, published by the RSS and the IFoA on 11 September 2013.
Notes on the survey
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,210 adults, of whom 515 stated that they were either 'Professional or Higher Technical Workers' and 395 'were Managers or Senior Administrators'. Fieldwork was undertaken between 19th August - 21st August 2013. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).