London, Jan 5: Basic lessons in statistics and probability called 'risk literacy' may help teach kids how to weigh the pros and cons and make sensible life decisions, claims one of Britain's leading mathematicians.
David Spiegelhalter, of the University of Cambridge, says that 'risk literacy' is being ignored by the national curriculum, and has thus urged that pupils in every secondary school should be taught the statistical skills, critical to making choices about health, money and even education.
Spiegelhalter is UK's only Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, also said that just like the Internet transformed information access, there was a growing need to teach people how best to interpret data. Understanding statistics and the principles of risk could help people to make sense of claims about health hazards and the merits of new drugs, to invest money more wisely, and to choose their children's schools.
Spiegelhalter has even developed programmes for teaching risk literacy, based on familiar subjects such as the National Lottery and football league tables.
His colleagues are introducing these programmes to schools through a "Risk Roadshow". They believe that something similar should be offered as a matter of course.
"I regard myself as part of a movement we call risk literacy. It should be a basic component of discussion about issues in media, politics and in schools," Times Online quoted Spiegelhalter as saying.
"We should essentially be teaching the ability to deconstruct the latest media story about a cancer risk or a wonder drug, so people can work out what it means. Really, that should be part of everyone's language," he added.
Spiegelhalter further said that as an aspect of science, risk was "as important as learning about DNA, maybe even more important. The only problem is putting it on the curriculum: that can be the kiss of death. At the moment we can do it as part of maths outreach, maths inspiration, which is a real privilege because we can make it fun. It's not teaching to an exam. But I actually think it should be in there, partly to make the curriculum more interesting."
He suggested that risk literacy could be taught as part of maths, science, or civics and personal and social education.
He also claimed that by using simple examples, they could explain more complex statistical principles, such as recognising that apparently improbable occurrences are often in fact predictable in a population as large as Britain's.