Count me in

18 Nov 2010

Inez Bailey, NALA Director, gave a brief update of recent activities and forthcoming events that would impact on NALA’s work in the future.   The Department of Education and Skills, aims to bring a number of budgets together into a type of ‘Back to Education’ fund available at the VEC level over the next year or so.   NALA has worked hard to maintain a steady budget over the last few years, but is anticipating that future budgets may be affected.

 Ireland will be participating in the forthcoming Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Beginning in 2011, it will report findings in 2013 for Ireland in comparison with other countries across the globe.  It will be difficult to compare the outcome for Ireland with IALS 1997 because PIAAC takes a different approach. However, NALA expects a slight improvement due mainly to changes in the population age profile.

 NALA is encouraging people to improve their own reading, writing and number skills by using the website.  This is an innovative resource that guides people to an award at level 2.  NALA will be making extensive use of the home website,,  to communicate with partners, tutors and learners.

As part of a renewed focus on numeracy, NALA commissioned a small piece of research to enquire about the mathematics ability people use in their everyday lives.  Amongst the many findings, it was confirmed that a significant proportion of the people selected at random from the general public, did not like maths and did not see themselves as doing maths.  The full report is available at

Daniel Sellers, Adult Literacies Development Officer, Learning and Teaching Scotland, presented an outline of the literacy and numeracy landscape in Scotland.  Daniel clarified that in Scotland, ‘literacies’ is understood to include a personal and positive relationship with mathematics i.e. being confident and comfortable  in deciding  whether to use mathematics, and to what extent. Recent research reports that more than 1 million people require support to improve their literacy skills. This number includes  144,000 people who  are thought to have severe problems, especially when they encounter a new task.  The introduction of new technology into everyday life, and how that changes the literacies that people actually need, is gradually shifting the focus of service delivery to a Social Practice model in place of the more traditional Deficit model.

 Extracts from a national survey in the UK, indicate that 40% of adults in Scotland have literacy levels that impact on their employment prospects. For numeracy, this increases to 65% for men and 77% of women.  At some point, many  encounter their own ‘maths ceiling’, that is the point at which their abilities no longer meet their needs, e.g.  a new job or a promotion.

This suggests that individuals may need to polish up different numeracy skills, when they need them in their social setting, rather than a requirement for a mass re-education in mathematics.  The Social Practice approach is also expected to have the effect of normalising mathematics by integrating it with other topics, making it OK to ask for help.

Bill Lynch, Director, Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, presented Project Maths as a project designed to change the way mathematics is taught and learned. While not a syllabus itself, one of the outcomes will be to change the mathematics syllabus gradually, allowing students and teachers time to adjust. It emphasises the importance of understanding mathematics by using it in meaningful ways.  The fundamental strategy is to introduce a story that engages the minds of the learners.  Discussion in small groups is encouraged as it promotes social confidence and problem- solving abilities in the student and provides an opportunity for the tutor to uncover and correct misconceptions.   The tutor can invite questions and welcome them as opportunities to let the students hear  them thinking.  In this way, students will be better able to talk about and reflect upon mathematics, and make connections to other topics

Jill Brown, Development Officer, Learning and Skills development Agency, Northern Ireland, described Active Learning approaches to mathematics as a way of engaging the students’ brains and providing a deeper learning experience. Research suggests that students want a variety of learning  activities in the classroom e.g. , video clips, role play, quizzes and the opportunity to move about.  There is an abundance of possibilities ranging from placing the students’  shoe sizes in  order  as an experiment in statistics,  to discussing the mathematics that underpin  the work of  television forensic scientists.   Active learning supported by Dialogic teaching, which encourages discussion  and articulation  is in striking contrast to the more typical student response lasting no longer than 5 seconds, leaving  very little time for any  misunderstandings to be revealed and corrected.

Active learning is based on good, mathematics teaching principles.  It builds on the competence learners bring to the session.  An emphasis on methods, rather than answers, allows connections to be made explicit, and enhances the learning experience.  The use of open-ended questions prompts class discussion, exposes what they want to know, uncovers misconceptions and provides assessment opportunities

A number of questions and comments were addressed to the panel  of presenters concerning PIAAC,  appropriate use of technology, the continuing need to ‘number crunch’ and dealing with the emotional baggage associated with mathematics.  The audience then had the opportunity to attend one of the following workshops;

Distance learning: How to use teaching and learning numeracy and making it more accessible – Adult Numeracy tutor and student

Numeracy for Community: how numeracy can sit at the heart of communities and contribute to social inclusion – Daniel Sellers

Accreditation for Numeracy: Being creative with levels 1 to 3 – Anne Higgins, Project Officer, FETAC

Creating your own numeracy  resources– Jill Brown.