Cover image: Why numbers matter

Why numbers matter

Global interconnections reach all parts of our lives, and that includes our Christmas festivities. In the UK, we collectively sat down to consume several million turkeys this yuletide, so it is a sobering thought that most of the new diseases that have emerged in humans over recent decades have been transmitted to us by animals. What’s more, a recent FAO report (PDF) links the emergence of diseases such as HIV, SARS and new influenza viruses, with the human quest for meat, including how we farm to feed ever growing human populations. The report highlights yet another way in which we are linked, not only to each other, but also to all life on the planet. Reading through, it also reinforced for me a key theme for our work at Think Global at the moment – the way in which numeracy is an important tool in exploring and interpreting our globalised world. Many of the questions that came to mind as I was reading the report can be answered in numerical terms:
  • How many new diseases have emerged in the last decade?
  • How significant is the spread of animal-origin disease in relation to other new diseases?
  • How much more intensive is, for example, beef farming than it was a decade ago?
  • How much animal trade occurs around the world?
To really understand our globalised world, we, and the students we teach, need to be able to understand quantitative measures of that world. And, of course, to consider what these numbers mean, question the interpretations of others, and understand how these figures were arrived at. However, there are currently few resources which are usable and curriculum-relevant, and bring up-to-date data on global issues into the teaching of statistics in maths, geography or other subjects. Exceptions include great teacher and student-friendly websites such as Gapminder and SHOW®World, which allow you to visualise global data in different ways. At Think Global we are working to plug the gap and create new global learning resources with a quantitative dimension. If you have any suggestions for useful resources using statistics in secondary maths, geography or another subject, let us know in the comments box below. The photo at the top of the page is A Cow by publicenergy on and used under a Creative Commons licence. Kate Brown is Head of Programmes at Think Global