Is maths more important than spelling? Important yes, but more so? To read media reports lately, you'd certainly think so. There's been a recent slew of articles about the state of Britain's numeracy. Indications are that many adults find even the simplest calculations a challenge. In fairness the reports are probably correct. And, of course, it is worrying. While I don't agree with some that everyone in the country needs to have a full understanding of quadratic or simultaneous equations, it's obviously vital that everyone feel confident enough to work out their household accounts and that sort of thing. 

And many of us do struggle. I know, as my multitude of maths teachers would have confirmed, that mathematic equations do not come easily to me. Partly this is because I have a real struggle to remember a series of numbers in the correct order. Actually I think that's pretty much my entire problem. After all, if you can't get things in the right order, or at least know there's a chance you can't, it makes even adding up a bit of a challenge. For my O-Level I had a very good teacher, whose patience I challenged to its very edge. You see, because I didn't have the confidence with numbers that others had, I felt I had to understand why I had to use the methods I was shown. And, at my first attempt, I failed my exam. And that same teacher dedicated a good deal of time during the first few weeks of my Sixth Form studies helping me get through the re-take. Which I did. Once I accepted that I didn't need to know 'why', just 'how'. But it was a struggle.

And the fact is, had I spent a good deal more of the five years I studied maths at senior school increasing my confidence with the important things – the types of maths that the adult me (as a non-scientist) would need, I might have had less of struggle in that exam. After all, while I failed my maths O-Level at the first attempt, in a Basic Numeracy CSE that they threw at us without warning a year earlier I scored 90 percent. So clearly I could 'do maths', just not complicated maths.

The fear of failure of maths went right back to my primary school years when a particularly martinet-like teacher (a rarity at the fabulous school I attended) put the fear of God into me every time I was required to solve a sum by reminding me how awful I was at it. Without that potential humiliation, and with a little more encouragement and nurturing, I might not have had such a fear of calculation that I retain to this day. 

Even so, by my reckoning, back in the 1980s, we spent the best part of the last three years of my O-Level education studying types of maths that would really only be useful to anyone studying a higher science or a medical degree or architecture or the like. And I could quote at least three teachers (granted, none of them were maths teachers) who felt that most of us would have been better served by taking a basic numeracy exam at 13 and using the spare time brushing up on our geography or English or French (or whatever subject that particular teacher was expert in). Of course, the curriculum is designed so that it supposedly equips anyone to go on to study sciences which is all very laudable. But I do get frustrated by the constant concentration on science subjects especially in the media. 

Of course, it's understandable. Science makes a better story. It's more glamorous. And at this time of year especially, it makes the news. Because no doubt you'll have been made aware that this week marks World Maths Day. 

But I wonder just how many news organisations will be running features on the problems of adult literacy, or the appalling state of the nation's ability to use grammar properly? Or the widespread, almost epidemic of bad spelling on signs, in letters, even on official announcements? Because, it's just as relevant, you know. And here's something that probably won't make the headlines – this week also marks World Spelling Day.

And together with World Maths Day and World Science Day, World Spelling Day makes up the world's largest educational event – the World Education Games. When more than 5 million students from countries across the globe compete in various educational competitions. But you can bet that the spelling competitions won't be getting the headlines. 

In my experience a kid who is great at spelling is viewed as 'clever-clogs', while one with a natural gift for maths is 'brainy'. It makes no sense. Because spelling and grammar is every bit as important as being able to add up. It's vital, too, that every one of us can make our voices heard and communicate with others clearly. Fail to spell, or use correct grammar and you fail to make your point. If you can't make your point, you become cut off from the rest of society.

The correct use of English, or at least a clear use of English – I'm not so pedantic to insist that everything is absolutely perfect, nor daft enough to think that the odd bit of bending the rules isn't a good thing from time to time – is essential in creating a good impression. 

Of course, the most obvious mistakes appear on signs and notices. You see them everywhere. From spelling mistakes (everyone makes them, but don't people check before they put the darned things up?) to the simply nonsensical. And don't get me started on apostrophes. Actually, do. Because no-one seems to use them correctly. Actually, that's not true. Or fair. But it seems everywhere you turn there's a missing, misplaced or malapropos apostrophe. You see them used as plurals: "Rose's For Sale".

Well that's very nice for Rose, but what is she selling? Or in the wrong place, so a single turns into a plural: "The Kings' Head". Or often just tossed out there, usually hovering above an isolated 's', as if the person writing the sign knows there should be an apostrophe in there somewhere, but isn't sure where. Or often there's just no apostrophe at all. Now, I don't know about you, but if I don't know how to do something, I either find out how to do it, or hand the job over to someone who does. It might not seem important, but really it is. 

I had a quick trawl on the internet and found what I think is a pretty good example of just why. An English teacher wrote down the following sentence: "a woman without her man is nothing" The, probably apocryphal, story goes that, when asked to punctuate it, the male students did so thus: "A woman without her man, is nothing.", while the females chose to interpret is as: "A woman! Without her, man is nothing."

Gender bias aside, it does show how important correct punctuation is to our comprehension and communication. And how many times have you seen a neatly-printed sign that doesn't really say what it's supposed to mean? There's a delightful example in our local supermarket. Each emergency exit is marked "This door is alarmed". Don't you feel sorry for it? Okay, it's really very amusing and, of course, it's obvious what the signs are meant  to say, but they don't. 

Proper English just doesn't seem to be something that people take seriously at all.  Many people argue that in some situations, when using Twitter, for example, it's simply not possible to write grammatically. Okay, sometimes it's a challenge to get your point across in 140 characters or less, and I've been known to use an abbreviation or (very) occasionally one of those cute licence plate spellings if I'm running tight on space and time.  Although, I wish people who insisted on using them frequently realised that  "L8TR" uses only one character less than "later". And why write an entire message in it? It's a useful tool, not a compulsory challenge!

And although there have been a number of excellent books written on the subject, most notably Lynne Truss's "Eats Shoots and Leaves", it still seems that a lot of people think that being cute about punctuation is in some way pedantic. But really, it's not. Punctuation outlines the meaning of what we write, and what we say. And without it, and the clarity it brings, how can we hope to communicate our thoughts, wishes and feelings?

And there's increasing claims that universities and employers are finding that many applicants are simply unable, or ill-equipped to use English correctly and that, in some case, this is rendering them almost illiterate. And, just as it's unacceptable to have adults with numeracy problems, it's a pretty bad indictment on both our education system and our attitudes to what's important in our society that we don't take things like spelling and grammar seriously. And, without a good understanding of English, just how do we even make sense of the world, or those great long maths problems?