Is new technology to blame for poor literacy in maths?

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Three AAT members in practice offer their views on whether youngsters coming into accounting have sufficient literacy in maths compared to those that went before them, and find that a reliance on new technology could be having a negative impact.

Henry Cooper FMAAT: There’s literacy in maths – and then there’s literacy in arithmetic

It’s a well-known myth that accountants are fantastic at maths.

After a meal out, everyone looks to me to work out the bill. But really, good accountants are arithmetical – and there is a significant difference between that and being mathematical.

Arithmetic is about basic, simple mathematical principles used in calculation, while mathematics is the abstract study of number, quantity and space. By muddling our terminology and using mathematical, numerical and arithmetic interchangeably we’re missing the point.

And I think that is perhaps why we are seeing a younger generation less prepared for the challenges of accountancy. By focusing on complex mathematics, rather than the maths we have all around us in our everyday life, we are making a mistake.

My daughter, who is 10, is fantastic at calculating the best deals in the shopping basket, and those are the skills our young people really need. For me, basic arithmetic skills are more important than maths. To better prepare our children for entering the profession, we need to re-evaluate our focus.

Dawn Clarkson FMAAT: Lack of literacy skills is damaging lives

The lack of numeracy and literacy skills can have a major impact on day-to-day living.

It can lead to a self-perpetuating cycle of lack of control of personal finances leading to anxiety, depression and, ultimately, further spending.

There have been considerable cultural changes over the past decades that arguably have contributed to less self control and reduced personal responsibility. While businesses may help employees improve their literacy in maths, I believe there needs to be a fundamental change to parental and educational attitudes and approaches towards basic training in self-discipline.

Once these skills are established, would individuals absorb literacy and numeracy training more easily? An interesting thought.

Jenni Frost MAAT: Technology brings its own problems

This is a tricky issue for me to comment on.

I have no kids and not enough direct contact with young adults in my everyday life. But our 19-year old trainee, who is doing the AAT Accounting Qualification and Maths A-level, gives me no worries about the quality of work the next generation of accountants will be able to produce.

I still think most accountants have a good head for numbers. What I have noticed is that there is a real generational difference between young people who rely heavily on technology such as computers and calculators to do their job, and someone like my colleague who learnt the skills manually 20 years ago.

Although she’s now brilliant at making use of new technology, she also knows the reason for why we do things in a certain way. The danger is that the next generation won’t know why they are doing what they’re doing because they’ve never been told how to do it manually.

Pressing a button and getting the answer is not solid enough a grounding to truly understand accountancy.

More information on literacy in maths can be found on the National Numeracy website.

Farah Dib is a former freelance writer for AAT.

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