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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 February, 2004, 14:37 GMT
Why do we think maths is boring?
Johnny Ball
Johnny Ball's programmes helped bring maths alive for children
Maths is soo-ooo boring. How many times have parents heard their children utter those words as they pore over their homework?

The general perception of maths as a difficult subject has led to a "disastrous decline" in pupils taking maths at A-level, say university researchers.

TV presenter Johnny Ball believes there needs to be a radical overhaul in the way maths is taught to children from an early age.

Johnny Ball's infectious enthusiasm and energy endeared him to a generation who watched his science and technology programmes such as 'Think of a Number' throughout the 1980s.

Legions of children must have wished he was their teacher and the presenter believes the way maths is taught at school leaves a lot to be desired.

He says: "What they've done is make it less fun.

"The way it's taught is slow and pedantic. It's heartening that an initiative is in place to change that.

"Children are not being engaged at an early stage. If they don't get their feet wet in maths then they're not going to want to take it any further.

"They have also tried to teach maths on the same level across the board which means overall it has become dumbed down.

"The talented pupils often get bored through lack of stimulation," he added.

"Now they're realising you've got to help the gifted and talented children rather than maintain a mediocre level, because every child is gifted and talented in some way."

'Power of maths'

The TV presenter - father of DJ Zoe Ball - says maths must be taught in a more entertaining and relevant way.

"Kids nowadays lead much faster lives and they receive information much more quickly so they need to be taught at a pace to excite them," he said.

"You enjoy learning when you see what you're learning at a pace. That's not been happening because the learning is too slow.

There is not enough excitement at the power of maths
Johnny Ball
"Maths is an enabler, it's so much more than just numeracy. There is not enough excitement at the power of maths.

"You need to give them projects that involve life in the real world.

"My programmes weren't classed as educational - they were in the entertainment section.

"Of course we proved that they were actually more educational than many of the education programmes.

"Communication was the key. Keeping the subject matter simple and engaging and knowing when to move it on. That's what we did with the 'Think of a number' programmes."

'Industry suffering'

The presenter welcomed the government's attempts to try to reverse the decline of maths.

"There is no question that the government is doing the right thing in encouraging this," he said.

"Industry is suffering terribly. We need graduates in engineering and for that you need maths.

"I'm involved in several ways on a number of government initiatives."

Nevertheless, he said those leaving school with poor maths results should not be too downhearted, as their potential may have been overlooked.

He said: "I left school with only two O-levels at the age of 16 but as soon as I got a job suddenly I was in a world of work and it gave me confidence and excited me and I haven't looked back.

"The fact is I was always good at maths but the teachers didn't spot it."




WATCH AND LISTEN
Johnny Ball, Broadcaster
"We are suffering terribly from the lack of graduates in mathematics"



SEE ALSO:
Action plan to rescue maths
24 Feb 04  |  Education
Making maths a priority
24 Feb 04  |  Breakfast
Ball inspires young engineers
05 Feb 01  |  Education


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