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Adult Numeracy
Background
Adult Numeracy has traditionally been taught under the auspices of adult literacy and basic education (ALBE) within Australia. Programs are offered through a wide range of providers including Technical and Further Education (TAFE) Institutes; community-based providers such as neighbourhood houses, community centres, libraries; workplaces; and also private training providers.
What is Adult Numeracy?
In today's technological society, either as part of everyday life, or at work or play, it is necessary to absorb, use and critically evaluate large amounts of information, much of which is presented in numerical or graphical form. In order to interpret this information a range of mathematical skills is needed.
Although these activities vary depending on the culture and the context in which they occur, they utilise a range of mathematical skills which include basic number skills, spatial and graphical concepts, use of measurement and problem solving. These skills are all essential for participating effectively in society.
Although there are no universally accepted definitions of numeracy or agreement about the ways in which numeracy differs from mathematics, certain emphases can be noted in definitions of numeracy. There are emphases on the practical or functional application and use of mathematics.
"To be numerate is to function effectively mathematically in one's daily life, at home and at work" (Willis, 1990).
The UK Cockcroft Report stated that :

"We would wish the word 'numerate' to imply the possession of two attributes. The first is an 'at homeness' with numbers and an ability to make use of the mathematical skills which enable an individual to cope with the practical demands of his everyday life . The second is an ability to have some apprehension and understanding of information which is presented in mathematical terms, for instance in graphs, charts or tables or by reference to percentage increase or decrease. Taken together these imply that a numerate person should be expected to be able to appreciate and understand some of the ways in which mathematics can be used as a means of communication .... " (Paragraph 39).

"Most important of all is the need to have sufficient confidence to make effective use of whatever mathematical skill and understanding is possessed, whether this be little or much" (Paragraph 34) (Cockcroft, 1982).

Definitions imply certain attitudes as well as skills, an 'at homeness' or 'confidence' with numbers and other maths skills. In other words skills and knowledge can actually be put into practice.

It is clear from these definitions that numeracy does not refer only to operating with numbers as the word can suggest, but refers to a much wider range of skills. It also implies a certain flexibility - dependent on the needs and interests of the individual within the context of the peer group, community or workplace.

In recent years there has been much discussion and debate about the relationship between mathematics and numeracy and to the concept of 'critical' numeracy. Betty Johnston has argued that numeracy in fact incorporates, or should incorporate, this critical aspect of using mathematics. She argues that:

"To be numerate is more than being able to manipulate numbers, or even being able to 'succeed' in school or university mathematics. Numeracy is a critical awareness which builds bridges between mathematics and the real world, with all its diversity" (Johnston, 1994).

She continues:

"In this sense . . . . . . there is no particular 'level' of Mathematics associated with it: it is as important for an engineer to be numerate as it is for a primary school child, a parent, a car driver or a gardener. The different contexts will require different Mathematics to be activated and engaged in" (Johnston, 1994).

So the view of numeracy and mathematics that has developed in Australia is one that sees numeracy as making meaning of mathematics and sees mathematics as a tool to be used efficiently and critically.

(Excerpt from Marr, Beth & Tout, Dave, 'A Numeracy Curriculum', Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers Conference Proceedings, AAMT, Melbourne, 1997).

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