Yesterday, I went looking for a tool that could test my mathematical gaps. I was hoping to identify areas I should work on. Data analysis and programming makes varying demands on your mathematical skills, ranging from the very basics of logic to super tough. There’s a tendency of programmers to neglect building their maths skills which is a shame.

Anyway, I didn’t find what I was looking for but I did find a UK initiative called the National Numeracy Challenge. I spent about 45 minutes doing it to check I could remember high school maths. I got 97% right, I misread one question, mis-clicked the answer on another, and my logic was off on a third. It wasn’t super tough and didn’t touch on the areas of maths that are now most useful to me (degree level statistics and probability), but I thought it was an interesting initiative to help people see gaps and point them toward ways to improve.

One of the quote I like best, is that of the late Tony Judt, “The best defence of the working classes, in general, is arithmetic”. It’s true, if you don’t know maths it is so easy for people to screw you over, whether it be on a personal level (in a car showroom when the guy offers you finance) but, as Judt alludes to, also on a more abstract political level (when a politician misrepresents what percentage of public spend is going on something like the European Union, which groups of people benefit most from the design of tax systems and tax breaks, etc. – hint: in the UK it’s not the poorest people).

Unfortunately, millions of people in the UK have very poor maths. 4 in 5 adults have a low level of numeracy. Maths is very much a political problem.