Don’t just say the numbers, count!
February 2, 2009
Teachers at my son's school gave a presentation the other night, on the methods they use to teach maths to him and his classmates. Amongst a lot of interesting stuff, I thought one topic that was particularly profound was when a teacher explained that for a five year old, being able to count the numbers up to 20 was not the same as being able to count. This had initially surprised the teacher until she had seen several children behave the same way, and she gave the example below.
Let's say that they are four chairs around a table, and the teacher asks the child to count the chairs. Most children point at each chair and as you would expect say "One, two, three, four" in turn. Apparently though, if the teacher then says "So how many chairs are there?", many children look baffled and either repeat "One, two, three, four" or alternatively just guess, saying any number that comes into their head. At that age, the children do not necessarily know that the last number is the special one, the "result", and many do make the connection between saying "number words" in order and actually "counting" things.
Doesn't sound like much to do with the current financial crisis, does it? But maybe it is, as to me there seems to be a real parallel between too many compliance, product control and risk management staff who concentrate on the task of "producing" a management report rather than the real task of understanding and interpreting its meaning. Like the teacher, managers shouldn't be surprised at this and need to make sure the desired "result" is understood rather than allowing staff to "say the numbers". Thinking about it, maybe after the past six months it would be best if we all went back to school for a while…