On 14 March 2022, UNESCO celebrated the International Day of Mathematics, an event started in 2019 to highlight the importance of mathematics in everyday life.
The date was chosen because Pi, one of the world’s most widely-known mathematical constants can be rounded to 3.14, which matches the US abbreviation for March 14.
Widespread mathematical illiteracy seems at odds with Switzerland’s strong economy and focus on industries that require large numbers of highly educated workers. However, the Swiss association Read and Write estimates that more than 400,000 adults (5%) have difficulty with simple everyday arithmetic, around 800,000 adults (11%) in Switzerland have difficulty reading and writing and roughly a quarter have little or no basic digital knowledge.
For the 1 in 20 lacking basic mathematical skills everyday situations can become a major challenge. These people are restricted in their everyday life and work and excluded from certain areas of life. Without the help and support of family, friends and other people they can become overwhelmed and suffer stress and low self-esteem, said the association.
A poor grasp of mathematics can increase the risk of job loss or long term unemployment. The social and economic consequences of this are significant. In addition to welfare costs and lost human potential there are also social, cultural and political costs, said the organisation.
According to Sabina Gani, director of Read and Write in Vaud, not having these basic skills can have a serious impact on well-being. These people often have low self-esteem and live in a state of constant stress, Gani told RTS.
Given the high number of people affected, federal and cantonal governments have decided to take action. Compared to neighbouring countries Switzerland has a relatively low rate of poorly qualified residents who have not been educated beyond compulsory school, however, it is this group that often struggle with reading, writing and basic mathematics.
Sabina Gani says that it is important for these people not to feel ashamed and to take steps towards enrolling in one of the many courses targeted at these issues. A website entitled better now, available in French, German and Italian versions, offers courses and help with reading, writing, technology and mathematics. There is also a phone number to call for more information: 0800 47 47 47.