Monday, November 15, 2010


The prime reason of my interest (or nerdy love) in Statistics is that it trains me to gain an acute sense of numeracy.  By numeracy, I mean litearcy for numbers.  Thus, innumeracy is an inability to understand numbers, as illiteracy is an inability to read words.  To further clarify, if you were numerate, you wouldn't get a student loan at 8% interest rate.  Instead, you would borrow from your parents/grandparents/relatives at 0% interest rate after buying them a nice bottle of wine at Christmas.

Statistics are often representations of our society in simple numerical ways.  These indicators are most often a single dimension of a larger complex world.  Thus a combination of these indicators show several cross sections that seem a bit choppy without the numeracy needed to synthesize them holistically.

In Tanzania, the failures in mathematics is often referred to as a national disease, and the statistics shows.  A large chunk of scores in Swahili, English, Geography, and other social sciences range in 30-50, while the Mathematics scores range in 0-30.  But when we are more numerical and analytical , we notice what the problem truly is.  The Arts subject examinations are filled with multiple choice and matching problems, and thus, there is a chance of guessing the right answer.  On the other hand, Mathematics questions have none of those, and all answers must be constructed from blank space.  Now, after eliminating how many questions should you guess in the SATs?

So the picture I see is in fact more problematic.  Students are failing / underperforming at every topic.  Wait, lets look at the subject of the previous sentence, students, and think again.  Is it just the students with problems?

Here's more.  The Millenium Development Goals and similar standards in development are often represented by a few statistical indicators.  For health, child mortality.  For education, primary school enrollment, etc.  Rarely does a single category involve more than five indicators.  I never knew high salary policy makers were so innumerate.

The Secondary Education Development Plan (SEDP1), implemented in 2005, is heralded as a great success of Prez. Kikwete, increasing the enrollment of secondary school students.  But other statistics, if collected or easily obtainable, will show otherwise.  A dramatic increase in student/teacher ratio, a fall in government subsidy per student, a fall in test scores, and many more.  I wonder if Kikwete is numerate.

No comments: