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Jesus Fernando Lopez Fidalgo
, Full Professor de Estadística e research Operativa and scientific co-director of the Institute for Culture and Society

Why it is essential to learn statistics at school

Tue, 05 May 2020 17:03:00 +0000 Posted in The Conversation

Today we hear a lot about Big Data and the science of data. Conversations, talks and conferences are often confronted with various fears about their use, the violation of privacy or the right to privacy, the invasive and inhumane use of the results or the possible battle between natural and artificial intelligences.

There is nothing that prevents us better against any manipulation subject than knowledge. For this it is necessary to put an end to statistical illiteracy. Not knowing the basics of data analysis and its interpretation is comparable to not knowing how to read in past centuries and, unfortunately, still in this century.

Learning from a very young age
Training young people from the earliest ages in the use of data and statistics for decision making -some big and medium deadline, and many others that affect daily life- is vital. Official statistics, for example, is the tool fundamental for democratic governance. Statistics and Big Data analysis save lives, contribute to welfare, facilitate communications and finance. Personalized medicine, so popular today, is not possible without good analysis of (many) data. The prevention of diseases or even of a crisis is not possible without properly analyzed data .

Statistics is also crucial for the development of Industry 4.0 and the intelligent companies of the 21st century. Sustainability and the environment are now written in the language of statistics. Social networks, search engines and traffic on network are also read in statistical language .

Only taught at the university
All these arguments make very clear its importance for our societies. However, although the teaching of statistics is fully integrated in the university teaching , the same does not occur in the non-university teaching . If we take into account that in the PISA mathematics tests, approximately a quarter corresponds to statistics exercises, we can conclude that any effort to reinforce the knowledge and use of statistics is welcome.The Conversation

Several universities, teachers associations, Departments of Education of regional governments, etc. are aware of this and therefore in almost all the autonomous communities are organized annually local phases of the contest Incubadora de Sondeos y Experimentos, aimed at students of teaching Secondary (ESO), high school diploma and Formative Cycles.

The activity, which has a national phase, has as a global goal that students of these educational levels, guided by teachers, become aware of the importance of these disciplines in the research.

internship In addition to awakening their interest in statistics, probability and research as a fundamental tool in all sciences, young people become familiar with the different stages in the realization of a statistical project and educate their critical spirit, learning to interpret the different statistical information.

It has been shown over the years that this activity financial aid helps secondary school teachers to plan their teaching in a motivating way, while fostering the spirit researcher.

"But he doesn't talk at home", commented a father after seeing his son present a scientific work with his technical words and consistency. Thanks to the modality contest with public presentation of the works, the families of the students and representatives of public and private institutions that witness them or participate in the juries are also involved. The contest has aspects that constitute a added value in terms of the promotion of science and the taste for research:

  1. Students, together with their teachers, should address problems from research suggested and posed by themselves that have a real interest.

  2. The problems are solved in small teams of students supervised by a teacher, which encourages teamwork work , typical of the interdisciplinary research .

  3. Beyond the contest in which they participate, there is the whole preparation of the papers, which is undoubtedly the most formative and effective part of knowledge dissemination of Statistical Science.

  4. All the steps of the methodological process of the research are taken: statement of the problem, establishment of the hypotheses to be tested, planning of the collection of data (designing a survey, an experiment or by means of data extracted from the network), analysis of the results and communication of the results, together with proposals for improvement.

  5. Students must make a public presentation of their work, which forces them to a rapport with their peers that they probably have not needed until then.

  6. A digital edition with ISBN is made of the works of the national phase.

  7. On more than a few occasions, teachers from other areas where the research takes place, ranging from language to Physics or Social Sciences, are involved in a work .

Awakening vocations
"Youtube and young people", "Independent video games: the other side of the coin", "Climate detectives" or "Do we take care of our brain health?" "Eight Pasiego surnames", "Why doesn't my mother like white chocolate?" or "Soccer balls and fishing rods from Formentera" are some of the works presented by kids between 11 and 17 years old in the national phase, held last June in Navarra.

Students surprise us with a team work in which they start by posing a problem of interest and continue developing the whole process of research, as we do in universities and centers of research, only with less means, tools and time. It is also a way of awakening new scientific vocations, which are so necessary.

This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original.