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What is numeracy?

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Last updated 26 October 2012 15:28 by NZTecAdmin

The term numeracy is relatively new. It was first used in 1959 in the UK Crowther Report, where it was characterised as the mirror image of literacy. Since then, numeracy has been interpreted in different ways internationally, mostly because of the very different needs of the users of the term. The view of numeracy that underpins the numeracy learning progressions is about knowing and understanding: it is therefore both broad and contextualised. The following definitions most closely represent the view taken here.

To be numerate is to have the ability and inclination to use mathematics effectively in our lives – at home, at work and in the community.

Ministry of Education, 2001, page 1

To be numerate means to be competent, confident and comfortable with one’s judgements on whether to use mathematics in a particular situation and if so, what mathematics to use, how to do it, what degree of accuracy is appropriate and what the answer means in relation to the context.

Coben, 2000, cited in Coben, 2003, page 10

We believe that numeracy is about making meaning in mathematics and being critical about maths. This view of numeracy is very different from numeracy just being about numbers and it is a big step from numeracy or everyday maths that meant doing some functional maths. It is about using mathematics in all its guises – space and shape, measurement, data and statistics, algebra and of course, number – to make sense of the real world and using maths critically and being critical of maths itself. It acknowledges that numeracy is a social activity.

Tout, 1997, cited in Coben, 2003, page 11

The view of numeracy that underpins the numeracy learning progressions places an emphasis on the need for learners to gain:

  • a conceptual understanding of mathematical knowledge, and
  • the ability to use mathematical knowledge to meet the varied demands of their personal, study and work lives.

The numeracy learning progressions are based on the belief that in order to meet the demands of being a worker, a learner and a family and community member, adults need to use mathematics to solve problems.


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