One in 20 may suffer effects of 'number blindness'

MORE than 50,000 Scots may be unable to count or do simple sums because of an undiagnosed learning difficulty, The Scotsman can reveal.

Academics believe as much as 5 per cent of the population may have some degree of dyscalculia, which affects the ability to count and understand numbers.

It means they struggle with simple tasks such as checking their change in a shop, writing down a telephone number or even telling the time.

Experts and business leaders warn the effects of dyscalculia are costing firms billions and potentially costing individuals their future as they struggle to find jobs which don't require basic numeracy.

Growing numbers of concerned parents have been contacting the British Dyslexia Association for help and advice, but teachers say there is still little in place to help those suspected of having the condition.

Dr Steve Chinn, a specialist and author of Dealing with Dyscalculia, said it was accepted that maths difficulties were rife. He said: "

You can get people who are very bad at maths but superb at English, so it is specific in that it attacks a particular skill.

"There have been very few studies – but five per cent affected seems to be what the research says."

He believes dyscalculia is in the same position as dyslexia 30 years ago before it was widely accepted and diagnosed.

He said: "People are much more concerned about literacy than they are about numeracy.

"You can sit round a dinner table and say, 'I can't do maths', but you can't say, 'I can't read'.

"Literacy has a priority that maths will never have."

He says maths teaching is too focused on rote learning, which puts too much strain on short-term memory, and should be based more on understanding.

He is creating a diagnostic package with a psychology colleague at the University of Surrey which they hope to develop within 12-18 months.

Professor Brian Butterworth of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London is the author of the current definitive screening test used in the UK.

He believes international studies indicate the figure could be even higher, with 6.5 per cent of people affected and he called for widespread screening.

He warned: "In terms of employment prospects low numeracy is more often a handicap than low literacy."

Iain Ferguson, policy executive for CBI Scotland, backed that claim. He said: "Scottish businesses are losing 2 billion a year on what can only be described as remedial education.

"Numeracy is a key core skill for many companies, and some of our members are angry that they spend a disproportionate amount of their training budgets on basic numeracy."

The Scottish Government has expanded adult literacy and numeracy programmes.

Since 2001, when 15,000 people sought help with basic skills, numbers have risen dramatically to 200,000.

'I realised I had a severe problem'

PAUL Moorcraft, 60, is director of an independent think tank on conflict resolution based in London and has been diagnosed with dyscalculia.

He is a former war reporter, established author and a visiting lecturer on foreign relations at several universities but struggles with basic sums.

The former senior instructor at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, said: "I can't count. I've always been aware of it and I used to try and work out why.

"Growing up in South Wales I used to wonder why I couldn't do maths because I was good at other subjects. Of course my teachers just thought I was lazy at maths.

"I used to think my Welsh wasn't very good because my teachers were Welsh speaking and I spoke largely English at home.

"But I realised I had a severe problem. I only got maths O-level otherwise I wouldn't have gone to university.

"Geometry was shapes and I could do that, but I always had problems. When I worked in the Ministry of Defence the offices had security codes, but I couldn't remember any numbers.

"You could give me a million pounds and ask me to remember your phone number and I couldn't do it.

"I just simply can't read or describe numbers which is a real problem, but you couldn't admit to people that you can't count."

He said he decided to go public about his problem because he didn't want children to be stigmatised or feel they are stupid.

He said: "I've had a very varied and interesting life, I've studied at six universities, taught full-time at ten, yet I can hardly read a timetable and I can't write down a series of numbers."

Back to the top of the page