School pupils in England should study maths up to the age of 18, a report commissioned by the government says.
It says radical change is needed to give children the mathematical skills needed to succeed in a workplace where numeracy is increasingly important.
The report, by TV presenter Carol Vorderman, said the current system was failing young people.
Almost half of 16-year-olds fail to achieve grade C at GCSE, with 15% studying maths beyond that level.
This compares to a rate of 100% in most industrialised nations.
Ms Vorderman said more than 300,000 16-year-olds each year completed their education without enough understanding of maths to function properly in their work or private lives.
She said 24% of economically active adults were "functionally innumerate", and universities and employers complained that school-leavers did not have necessary maths skills.
Ms Vorderman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that pupils who did not achieve the expected standard - level 4 - in the national curriculum tests known as Sats at age 11, faced a "catastrophe".
Some 90% of them go on to fail to get a C at GCSE, she said.
"If you're on the scrap heap by 11, you will remain mathematically on the scrap heap," she said.
Ms Vorderman led a "maths task force" to produce the report, which was commissioned by Mr Gove and Prime Minister David Cameron when they were in opposition in 2009.
Her team concluded that the GCSE curriculum leans towards advanced topics needed by those who will study maths at A-level, which puts off less-gifted pupils.
Ms Vorderman said pupils were being taught trigonometry and algebra when "they can't even calculate a percentage".
The report recommends that the current maths GCSE should be split into two separate exams.
One would offer a higher standard of education in the core areas of the curriculum, such as basic numeracy and personal finance, while the other acted as a preparation for A-level.
The report says all pupils should study maths to 18, but this should not necessarily be in the form of an A-level or AS-level course, but should include a range of options to suit all abilities.
The task force also said that many primary school teachers are not adequately prepared to teach the subject and staff shortages mean a quarter of secondary pupils are taught by non-specialist maths teachers.
The report calls for better training to improve primary teachers' subject knowledge and confidence; the active encouragement of maths activities outside the daily lesson; and a new assessment for 11-year-olds to replace Sats.
Ms Vorderman said: "Mathematics is a critically important subject. It is a language without which the entire global infrastructure is struck dumb.
"This report does not make comfortable reading. It is aspirational but this does not mean making maths "harder" for everyone; it means making the teaching better and what is taught much more suitable for those who are learning it."
In the face of current financial turmoil, Ms Vorderman said: "Who knows which countries will come out on top in 20 years - is it going to be a country which has a lot of numerate people, or is the one that doesn't bother?"
In June, Education Secretary Michael Gove said he would like to see the "vast majority" of pupils in England studying maths to the age of 18 within a decade.
He said there were strong arguments for "making certain subjects compulsory for longer".
Mr Gove said: "This comprehensive report, looking at all the important areas, will be of great help as the government continues its drive to equip our children with the skills that they need to compete with their global contemporaries and thrive in the 21st Century."