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Quantitative literacy

Overview

We think of quantitative literacy as a practice in which people manage situations or solve problems involving quantitative information. In higher education there are different quantitative practices associated with different academic disciplines, to which the curriculum introduces students and in which students in those disciplines need to become competent practitioners.

The importance of the role of quantitative literacy (or numeracy) in higher education curricula is increasingly being recognized internationally. It is argued that it is the responsibility of higher education to produce quantitatively literate graduates so that they can play an effective role in society.The term ‘quantitative literacy’ is preferred in the USA, while the term ‘numeracy’ is most often used in the UK and Australia. In South Africa the term ‘mathematical literacy’ refers to the same concept and is also used as the name for the school subject.

We also focus on developing students' critical awareness. Students should develop the ability to ask critical questions about the use of data and mathematics. We stress that quantitative literacy should not be seen merely as a set of generic mathematical skills and techniques – we believe quantities to have no meaning without a context. Materials and contexts used in our courses are often chosen to sensitise students to many of the social issues prevalent in society and to demonstrate how being quantitatively literate enhances understanding of these.

A common error is to assume that students who have studied mathematics will necessarily be able to manage the quantitative demands of a different discipline. Quantitative literacy requires students to exercise competencies which the study of mathematics will not necessarily have developed. The understanding of data analysis and statistics plays an important role in quantitative literacy.

Some links to other readings about QL

Quantitative Literacy: Why Numeracy Matters for Schools and Colleges. 

The Case for Quantitative Literacy: 

The National Numeracy Network in USA (including journal). 

Chance website (university QL courses). 

Adults Learning Mathematics network.

Adult Numeracy Review (good discussion of "What is Numeracy?").