by LAUREN CODLING
A BBC star has said he wants to use his public platform in order to try and change “negative” attitudes towards mathematics.
Bobby Seagull, 34, initially found fame when his turn on the iconic BBC show University Challenge show went viral in 2016.
An instant hit with audiences, Seagull went on to star in Monkman and Seagull with his fellow University Challenge contestant Eric Monkman.
The show chronicled the pair’s adventures as they travelled across the UK, discovering the country’s most extraordinary inventions.
Seagull is now determined to use his public persona to help dispel negative connotations around mathematics and encourage the younger generation to engage with it.
Currently a part-time doctorate student at Cambridge University, he is researching so-called “maths anxiety” and hopes to understand why so many people suffer from it.
“A lot of anxiety is to do with attitudes towards maths,” he told Eastern Eye. “People rubbish the subject or put down people who aren’t doing well in it. This puts people off and they start to have a negative view on the subject.”
Seagull believes people automatically associate maths with their school experience and many do not think they will need numeracy skills in later life.
In India, he says, his cousins were praised for their maths skills, but not much attention was paid to it. However, if a person is good at maths in the UK, they are automatically seen as gifted and exceptionally smart.
“In this country, we are quick to attribute any success to talent and when you do that, you are putting that person on a pedestal,” he said. “If you put them on a pedestal, you think you can’t obtain [their achievements].”
On his newfound fame, Seagull believes Monkman and Seagull is popular with audiences because people are inspired to learn.
All school children should have role models who show that learning is a good thing, Seagull says, as people don’t want to be known as “geeks”.
He describes Monkman and Seagull as a light-hearted show which portrayed academics in a human light.
“We aren’t just cooped up in a room without any sunlight,” Seagull laughed. “We are real people that interact, and it brings some humanity to knowledgeable people.”
Working as a part-time maths teacher, Seagull admits that some of his own students lack enthusiasm for maths.
“If you show them algebra, they can’t see the purpose and that is when they struggle,” he said.
The mathematician has recently released a book, The Life-Changing Magic of Numbers, on his experiences growing up with numbers. He hopes to show that maths is fun and how it
links to everything in people’s lives.
“When people think of maths, they think of textbooks and exam,” he said. “But I saw maths in my everyday life – from cooking to dating to my fitness routine, it was always there.”
When Seagull was growing up in east Ham, east London, his first memory of maths was from collecting football stickers.
He would collect data from them, including the players’ height and performance statistics, and insert them into a spreadsheet. That confidence to use numbers helped him carve out his own identity.
“No matter what day it is, maths was always the same and that was so comforting for me,” he said.
Growing up, Seagull remembers his secondary school maths teacher Mr Workmaster. He would always create fun questions for Seagull and his classmates, making questions relevant to everyday popular things such as the World Cup, he explains.
“He made maths come to life for me,” Seagull said.
Today, he tells his students that if the same maths question was asked to a student in Brazil or Bangladesh, the answer would always be the same.
“Everyone has different opinions, but it is really cool that kids from all different backgrounds will always get the same answer to a maths problem,” he said.
Although he admits he is a Love Island fan, he believes the younger generation should not aspire to mirror reality stars.
“Not all of us can be chiselled models,” he joked.
The Life-Changing Magic of Numbers by Bobby Seagull is out now