Numeracy is a life skill. Being numerate goes
beyond simply 'doing sums'; it means having the
confidence and competence to use numbers and
think mathematically in everyday life…

What is numeracy?

Here we look at our definition of what is Numeracy – below – and at Why Numeracy is Important?, Numeracy and Maths, Numeracy in Schools and Numeracy for Adults

Our definition of Numeracy

Numeracy means many different things to different people.

Some see numeracy as the foundation of mathematics, the concepts learnt in school and necessary for understanding more advanced mathematics, such as quadratic equations, statistical analysis and calculus.

Some see numeracy purely as the ability to perform simple number calculations - a subset therefore of wider mathematics.

Others define numeracy in terms of its purpose or its function: numeracy skills are those you need to do a job (for example, using spreadsheets, calculating invoices) or to be an engaged citizen (for example, making sense of statistics reported in the media).

For our master-definition for what is numeracy, we choose the international description of mathematical literacy:

“Mathematical literacy is an individual’s capacity to identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the world, to make well-founded judgements and to use and engage with mathematics in ways that meet the needs of that individual’s life as a constructive, concerned and reflective citizen”. (PISA)

This definition allows us to focus on tackling very poor numeracy skills and on improving life outcomes for many people. It implies the essential skills needed for solving problems, processing information, making decisions and interpreting data. Being numerate is about appreciating number relationships and interpreting answers, and not just about doing calculations.

We also mention ‘mathematics’ sometimes. Although our focus is on numeracy, we see mathematical thinking as a particularly important part of numeracy – we discuss this more here: Numeracy and Maths.

So here are some examples of what we mean by numeracy:

  • being able to critically assess statistics used by advertisers or politicians

  • being able to manage family budgets – credit cards, offers at supermarkets and so on

  • being able to estimate – in all kinds of situations, e.g. journey speed, time and distance, roughly how much a bill will be or your expected bank balance at the end of the month...

You may be interested in this…

Why is numeracy important

Why numeracy is important

Less obvious than literacy but at least as significant financial and social impact.

Mathmatical journey

Essentials of numeracy

An overview of the key elements in the mathematical journey that everyone needs to take from early number understanding to a level of numeracy that is right for you.

Share this on: