Numeracy is about much more than numbers

May 29, 2018

Numeracy is about more than numbers — it’s about developing the critical thinking skills we all need for everyday life and work.

World-renowned maths expert Professor Merrilyn Goos says that improving our numeracy skills isn’t simply about numbers, it’s about developing the everyday problem-solving skills we all need for life in the 21st century.

“Numeracy connects the maths learned in the classroom with out-of-school situations that require additional problem-solving and critical judgment. Developing people’s numeracy skills helps them to think for themselves and ask questions about the world. Questions such as, should I vote for this political party’s policies? Or: do I believe what I read in the newspaper or in an online news site?” says Merrilyn.

Merrilyn, who will be the guest speaker at NALA’s upcoming Numeracy Conference in Trinity College Dublin on 30 May, also says that numeracy skills are more important than ever in the modern workplace.

“We live in a rapidly changing world and employers want people who are able to use their numeracy skills to solve unfamiliar problems. This means that it’s important for teachers to prepare their students for the workplace by providing them with the maths skills that will enable them to think critically. Otherwise, the danger is that potential employees will only have ‘inert knowledge’, that is, they will know lots of maths but will be unable to use what they know to solve problems that they haven’t come across before.”

The good news for all of us is that it is possible to continue developing numeracy skills throughout our lives.

“Thankfully, numeracy is not an all-or-nothing concept. We all have the capacity to develop our skills at every stage of our lives. People can learn to become more numerate, which will enable them to function in an increasing range of situations and environments,” she says.

Inez Bailey, NALA CEO, also emphasises the importance of continuing to develop our numeracy 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 Merrilyn Goos or Inez Bailey, please contact Patrick Gleeson, NALA communications officer 01 412 7916 or 086 792 5363.


Notes for editors

About Merrilyn Goos
Merrilyn Goos is Professor of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) Education and Director of EPI*STEM, the National Centre for STEM Education, at the University of Limerick. She is an internationally recognised mathematics educator whose research is known for its theoretical innovation and strong focus on classroom practice. Before taking up her position at the University of Limerick, she worked for 25 years at The University of Queensland, Australia, in a range of academic roles. These included Head of the School of Education and Director of the University’s Teaching and Educational Development Institute, working with all faculties and disciplines to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the University.

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 30 May at Trinity College Dublin and it will look at the ‘Requirements for numeracy in the 21st century’. It is a professional development event for adult numeracy practitioners and further education and training practitioners who want to learn more about numeracy. Bookings can be made at

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