Effective Learning & Teaching in Mathematics & Its Applications

By Peter Kahn; Joseph Kyle | Go to book overview

10

Numeracy in higher education

Janet Duffin


Introduction

The job was mine until I failed the numeracy test.

The idea of numeracy in higher education has always seemed something of an anomaly. In part this is because numeracy is seen as the concern of the very earliest levels of education and therefore of no moment at the university level. Furthermore, undergraduates normally possess a qualification in mathematics and are thus assumed to be numerate, even though there is no guarantee that a qualification in mathematics will automatically ensure competence in number.

However, the UK government has recently concentrated on the development of numeracy, both as a specific element within the normal mathematics curriculum in the earlier years of schooling through its National Numeracy Strategy (Department for Education and Employment, 1999, 2001) and in the later years as a key skill (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, 1999). In this context numeracy can be seen to be an entity in itself to be provided for within universities as much as in the earlier sectors of education. Indeed, this was the view taken by the Dearing Report (National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, 1997:9.16-18), which regarded numeracy as one of four skills crucial to the success of all graduates. In spite of this there remains an ambivalence towards its inclusion at the higher education level. In addition there are differences within universities regarding its provision for students, some seeing it as a constituent part of all mathematics support, others providing specific help with numeracy distinct from the mathematics support for undergraduates in their degree courses.

Students also tend to have a somewhat ambivalent attitude to numeracy, assuming as do universities themselves that a qualification in mathematics absolves them from a need to ensure current number fluency, many having thankfully left

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