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“They control our lives” - School World

“They control our lives” – School World

Quotations from the book “The Numbers”

  • “According to estimates, together we are now generating more numbers each day than all of humanity combined from the first clay tablet of Uruk over 5,000 years ago until 2010.”
  • “Research has shown that single numbers are challenging because the brain needs a little longer to process them. Even numbers flow easily into the brain and can be easily processed.”
  • “In a series of experiments, researchers from Hong Kong and the United States found that people consistently become more selfish, dishonest, and selfish if exposed to a math task.”

The quotes are from the book “The Numbers”.

Your fellow author tells you at some point in the book how he is being threatened by a student who requires passing a course so as not to put a lesson on his professor as a lecturer. Now this is a strict example, but is there a risk that the teacher’s behavior will also change if it is recorded by his students?

– I can tell you when I was new as a lecturer at the Stockholm School of Economics. We were evaluated by our students and after a while I knew exactly how to lecture to get good numbers. I could give lectures that I knew would give me high grades, but did the lectures give me the knowledge that my students served more to succeed in their studies? I doubt it!

– So maybe it was good for everyone when I became so confident in my role that I stopped caring about numbers in ratings, says Mikael Dahlin.

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Michael Dalin is Professor of Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics, lecturer and author. Photography by Peter Sederling

From a broader perspective, numbers and metrics in the public sector are a risk. If we start with school:

– As we write in the book: It is possible to find teachers who focus only on national tests and measurements so that the other learning of students is destroyed. Here it is important to think carefully.

Police and healthcare?

– If one focuses too much on the clearance rate, it will have consequences for the crimes being solved. In the UK, a measurable penalty has been introduced, which consists of deducting care allowance if a patient has to wait longer than four hours to be admitted to hospital. The result was that patients had to wait in ambulances outside the hospital …

From a smaller perspective, it’s fun to read about how people bid for a higher apartment if the pedometer app shows a high number. Does the same work for the teacher, do you become more generous when you grade the test if you have passed 10,000 steps?

– That would be fun to research! But we can only establish the relationship with the number of steps in terms of the appraised value of both the condominiums and the rental apartments.

And even so-called number freaks can use numbers incorrectly?

In 2017, a study was conducted showing that people with good mathematical ability more often use their ability to interpret numbers and problems that go against their worldview, rather than to challenge their thinking. This says a lot. I really like numbers. We just have to use it wisely and sometimes take the numbers with a pinch of salt.

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