Charting the pandemic

Charting the pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of data and how it is represented.

The teaching of this occurs in several subject areas including maths, the sciences and geography.

Equally important, is to teach children to understand that data can be represented to support specific arguments or opinions.

These are four of the commonest ways of representing data, and students should be taught them from their early years at school.

  • Tables can present information in a clear concise way because sentences and unnecessary introductions are avoided. They can present a series of options clearly. For example, a list of requirements for safe working in the Covid-19
  • Pie Charts help us see in broad terms the proportion of each category – they are often divided up into percentages and it’s easy to visually grasp these proportions. For example, how many people in the UK have been tested; how many have died; how many have had the disease. These can be represented as part of the whole.
  • Bar Charts can do a similar job and are useful in comparing one amount with another more precisely.
  • Line Graphs show trends over time more clearly than Bar Charts although they can be composed of the same kind of information. They have been used extensively during the pandemic to indicate the peaks and troughs over the months because the line tracks the progress in a more visually clear manner.

The selection of data can also be either discrete (data displayed in broad categories), or continuous (data showing all the values in a particular category). Highly detailed information is normally displayed in broad categories as discrete data, but if a more specific or detailed analysis is required of a particular part of the information it can be shown as continuous data. For example, testing for Covid-19 by area would probably be displayed as discrete data and each area would be one category, However, a further breakdown of the information for each area might utilise a far more detailed continuous data approach and show how many people have been tested by age from 1 year old to 100 years old.

The presentation of data is often used to make specific political or economic arguments, and this has happened during the Covid-19 crisis.

Selective renderings of certain data can be used to support very different interpretations to create opposing ‘facts’.

This means that one should always be aware that statistical data can be manipulated to make different points depending on how it is presented and what has, or has not been, counted.

For these reasons it is important that children both explore how to use and present data and also how to interpret it correctly.

The pandemic has at least given teachers plenty of statistics and graphs from which they can use to teach from.