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Maths until 18 needed to keep up with future economic powerhouses like India, says Sunak

British pupils need to study maths until they are 18 to keep up with future economic powerhouses such as India, Rishi Sunak has suggested.

The Prime Minister has faced criticism after setting out his ambition to make maths compulsory until the age of 18.

But he said India’s rapid growth is partly down to an “abundance” of skills in science, maths and engineering (STEM) and suggested the UK was lagging behind as “one of the few countries in the world” that lets pupils stop maths at 16.

He spoke after visiting school children taking coding and STEM courses at the British Council in New Delhi, India, as he travelled to the city for the G20 summit.

Asked what the UK could learn from India’s growth rate of around 7-8 per cent, Mr Sunak told reporters with him in New Delhi: “There’s lots of different reasons for the growth. There’s a billion people here, so that helps, and it’s a very young population.

“But one of the things I was taking away from it, which is why I talk about it a lot, is about the importance of an economy that is based on high-quality education and particularly STEM [when you look at] what is driving India’s growth.

“Yesterday, and this is really inspiring, it’s a STEM class, but India is blessed with an incredible amount of talent when it comes to science, maths and engineering.

“Those skills are only more relevant in the future economy. India has those in abundance. And then, one thing I thought again, and this was inspiring yesterday, there were about 20-odd teachers that were there, all computer science teachers, engineering teachers,18 of them are women.

“So that’s why when I talk about it’s important our kids study more maths.

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“[We are] one of the few countries in the world that lets them stop maths at 16 and not carry on all the way to 18.

“It’s based on my understanding and of my belief about what drives growth in a modern economy.”

Mr Sunak also insisted Brexit has allowed the UK to deepen economic ties with India, which he said would be “ one of the most significant countries geopolitically in the coming years and decades”.

Both the UK and EU are in talks with Delhi over free trade deals but Britain appears to be ahead in the race, although the Prime Minister stressed there was still “hard work” to do to get over the line after talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Saturday.

But he insisted that the prospective UK-India deal was “candidly one of the benefits of Brexit”.

“The ability to have control of your trade policy outside the EU, I think is an advantage because it’s countries like India and the East more generally, the Asia Pacific, which is going to disproportionately account for global growth in the coming decades,” Mr Sunak said.

“So being able to attach ourselves to that is really important, and we’ve demonstrated it already with CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership).

“We’re the first European country to join that trade deal.

“And then, as I said yesterday, it’s not a given with this deal, there’s hard work to do.

“But if it was successful, then that would be another way that we would be attaching ourselves to the growth of the fastest-growing region in the world.”



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