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Numeracy

Article Date: 
10 December, 2010 - 06:00

In the document “Promises to Keep” adopted by the Utah State Board of Education in August of 2009 it refers to the mission of Public Education.  Within this mission it states that Utah’s public education system keeps its constitutional promise by ensuring literacy and numeracy for all Utah children.  So what is numeracy and what does it mean in the educational experience of the students in Morgan County?
Numeracy is the ability to reason with numbers and other mathematical concepts.  To be numerically literate a person has to be comfortable with numbers, logic and reasoning.  Each of these areas has a unique means of communication that is indispensible to an educated life.
The need for numeracy has risen at least as fast as has the demands for literacy.  Numeracy is not so much about comprehending abstract concepts as it is about applying the basic number tools in complex settings. The news and information we deal with on a daily basis is filled with data in various forms, statistics and percentages.  From home finance to sports, from tax policy to the use of state funds, and from health care cost to insurance needs, we are bombarded with information expressed in numbers, rates, and percentages.
Numeracy and mathematics should be complementary aspects within the educational experience, assisting students in learning to cope with the quantitative demands of modern society. Mathematics is a well-established discipline within our schools, while numeracy is interdisciplinary.  Both are necessary for life and work, and each strengthens the other.  We must remember mathematics and numeracy are not the same subject.  Numeracy must permeate the entire curriculum and when it does, it will enhance students’ understanding of all subjects and their capacity to lead informed and productive lives.  
In discussing numeracy we tend to only bring up the traditional basic skills (arithmetic) for public examination but if we wish to improve numeracy we must understand that arithmetical skills make up only a small part of one’s mathematical knowledge needed in today’s world.  Approaches to numeracy within the educational plan must reflect different facets in which mathematical and statistical ideas operate. Here are a few we need to consider:
Practical numeracy (individual emphasis) – mathematical and statistical skills put to use in the routine tasks of daily life.
Public numeracy (society emphasis) – the focus of public numeracy is on the benefits to society.  A public unable to infer with figures is an electorate unable to distinguish between rational and rash claims found in the formation of public policy.
Professional numeracy – Many of today’s jobs require mathematical skills. For students, mathematics and numeracy opens doors to careers.  For the companies of today and of our future, a workforce with a high level of numeracy paves the way for new products and competitive production. As for our nation, numerical literacy provides a means of innovation to compete globally.
Personal numeracy – focuses on the numeracy requirements of personal organizational matters involving money, time and travel.
Leisure numeracy – As a culture, America spends an immense amount of time, energy, and money devoted to leisure-time activities.  The popularity of games of strategy, puzzles, and sport reveal a strain of mathematics lying just beneath the public’s surface.  These games, puzzles, and sports reveal a different type of mathematical thinking that is important to one’s overall success.
Traditional school mathematics typically supports two facets of numeracy – practical and professional - we must remember to accept and incorporate a broader fundamental curriculum that includes practical geometry, data analysis, understanding patterns, and problem solving.  A disconnect of mathematical study from other school subjects – from history and sports, from language, and even at times from science is one of the major obstacles to numeracy.  Numeracy entails a blend of statistics; geometry and arithmetic, sparked by careful reasoning rooted in common sense.  We must remember that students learn best in active contexts featuring discussion, writing, debate, investigation, and cooperation.  Isolated math facts only reinforce the image of mathematics being unrelated to real life.  Children need to learn many ways to calculate – manually, mentally, or electronically – in realistic contexts that reflect the world around them. Although numeracy may be taught in mathematics classes, to be learned effectively it must be used widely in other contexts, both in school, at home, in entertainment, and in sports.
With numerical literacy comes increased confidence allowing us to gain control over our lives and jobs.  Numeracy provides each of us with the ability to plan, to challenge, to predict, and to reason.  It involves developing confidence and competence with numbers and means of measure.