How numeracy can help save the world

March 6, 2019

The real world implications of numeracy are more than you might think. According to the United Nations (UN), numeracy plays a role in the future of our planet by helping people develop innovative solutions to the world’s greatest problems including poverty, inequality and climate change. Numeracy’s importance is recognised by its inclusion in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for everyone.

The impact of numeracy is one of the areas that will be explored by world-renowned numeracy expert Professor Diana Coben at the National Adult Literacy Agency’s (NALA) numeracy conference on 7 March in Trinity College Dublin.

“Numeracy matters. Our world is increasingly mathematised, even if mathematics is often invisible in use, hidden behind routine activities or computerised systems. Numerate people are better able to fulfil their potential in their work, social and community lives as competent, critical and confident contributors to society,” says Diana.

Diana is a member of the expert group brought together by UNESCO’s Institute of Lifelong Learning to advise on monitoring the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4.6. This goal states that by 2030 we must “ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy”.

This is important because there are currently over 265 million children out of school across the world, and 22% of them are of primary school age. Additionally, even the children who are attending schools are lacking basic skills in reading and maths. According to the UN, obtaining a quality education, which includes numeracy skills, is the foundation to creating sustainable development.

Speaking about numeracy in Ireland, Dr Inez Bailey, CEO, NALA, emphasises the importance of continuing to develop our skills.

“The OECD Adult Skills Survey found that that one in four Irish adults struggle with everyday maths such as working out discounts or adding up a bill. This shows that numeracy skills are developed and maintained throughout life and are not simply banked once during formal education. The survey shows that while our numeracy levels are influenced by educational attainment, they are also influenced by factors such as skills used in work and day-to-day living,” she says.

For more information, or to arrange an interview with Professor Diana Coben or Inez Bailey, please contact Patrick Gleeson, NALA Communications Officer 01 412 7916 or 086 792 5363.


Notes for editors

About Professor Diana Coben
Professor Diana Coben is Emeritus Professor of Adult Numeracy at King’s College London and Visiting Professor in the School of Education and Lifelong Learning at the University of East Anglia, UK. Her research focuses on the policy and politics of adult education viewed from an international comparative perspective, particularly with regard to adult numeracy and literacy.

She was Founding Chair and is now an Honorary Trustee of Adults Learning Mathematics, an international research forum bringing together researchers and practitioners in adult numeracy teaching and learning in order to promote the learning of mathematics by adults. She was also a founder member of the National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy in England. From 2011-17 she was Director of New Zealand’s National Centre of Literacy and Numeracy for Adults and until 2018 she was Professor of Education at the University of Waikato, New Zealand.

About the OECD Survey
The most recent OECD Survey of Adult Skills showed that one in four Irish adults are at or below level 1 for numeracy, one in six Irish adults are at or below level 1 on a five level literacy scale and two in five are at or below level 1 on using technology to complete tasks. For this survey the Central Statistics Office (CSO) interviewed 6,000 people aged 16 – 65 in Ireland and assessed their literacy, numeracy and ability to use technology to solve problems and accomplish tasks. The survey was conducted in Ireland between August 2011 and March 2012. The results were announced in October 2013.

About NALA’s Numeracy Conference
NALA’s Numeracy Conference will take place on 7 March at Trinity College Dublin. As well as exploring the global significance of numeracy, it will look at how numeracy tutors can sharpen and improve their teaching skills. It is a professional development event for adult numeracy practitioners and further education and training practitioners who want to learn more about numeracy. Book your place now.

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