This background summarises the evidence base from which the Numeracy capability's introduction, organising elements and learning continuum have been developed. It draws on recent international and national research, as well as initiatives and programs that focus on numeracy across the curriculum.

The identification of numeracy as a general capability or competence to be addressed across the curriculum is supported by the literature. In Australia, the National Numeracy Review Report (Commonwealth of Australia 2008) argued for an emphasis both on mathematics as a distinct area of study and numeracy as an across-the-curriculum competency. In order to develop the ability to communicate numeric information effectively, students should engage in learning that involves using mathematics in the context of other disciplines. This requires a cross-curricular commitment and is not just the responsibility of the Mathematics Department (Miller 2010).

The Numeracy capability and learning continuum have been informed by a range of findings identified in the literature over a considerable period of time. Steen (2001) pointed out the ever-increasing gap between the quantitative needs of citizens and their quantitative capacity, while Miller (2010) continues to argue that quantitative literacy is a proficiency that is essential for people to be able to participate fully in a democratic society. Most recently, concerns about low levels of financial literacy shown by young people in Australia prompted the development of a National Consumer and Financial Literacy Framework to support the development of financial literacy skills in young people (MCEECDYA 2011).

The approach to the Numeracy capability, reflected in an optimal approach taken in schools, is informed by aspects of numeracy that were highlighted in the literature, including that:

  • mathematics that people use in context is better understood than mathematics taught in isolation (Carraher, Carraher and Schliemann 1985; Zevenbergen and Zevenbergen 2009)
  • knowledge is not automatically transferable from mathematics to other contexts (Lave 1988); numeracy requires contextual and strategic knowledge as well as mathematical skills (AAMT 1998)
  • in numeracy there may be more than one suitable answer or method (Cohen 2001)
  • numeracy moments often arise in unexpected situations (Thornton and Hogan 2005).


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Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers 1998, Policy on Numeracy Education in Schools, AAMT, Adelaide.

Browder, M., Spooner, F.2011, Teaching Students with Moderate and Severe Disabilities, Guilford, New York.  

Carraher, T., Carraher, D. & Schliemann, A. 1985, 'Mathematics in the streets and in schools', British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 3, pp. 21–29.

Cockcroft, W.H. 1982, The Cockcroft Report: mathematics counts, The History of Education in England: (accessed 2 November 2011).

Cohen, P. 2001, 'The Emergence of Numeracy', in Steen, L. (ed), Mathematics and Democracy: the case for quantitative literacy, National Council on Education and the Disciplines, USA.

Council of Australian Governments 2008, National Numeracy Review Report, Commonwealth of Australia, Barton, ACT.

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Lave, J. 1988, Cognition in practice: Mind, mathematics and culture in everyday life, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Miller, J. 2010, 'Quantitative Literacy Across the Curriculum: integrating skills from English composition, mathematics and the substantive disciplines', The Educational Forum, October, vol. 74, no. 4.

Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs 2011, National Consumer and Financial Literacy Framework, MCEECDYA, Carlton South, Victoria.

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training & Youth Affairs 2008, Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians: (accessed 2 November 2011).

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001, Knowledge and Skills for Life: first results from PISA 2000, p. 22, OECD, Paris.

Steen, L. 2001, 'The Case for Quantitative Literacy', in Steen, L. (ed), Mathematics and Democracy: the case for quantitative literacy, pp. 1–22, National Council on Education and the Disciplines, USA.

Thornton, S. & Hogan, J. 2005, 'Mathematics for Everybody: implications for the lower secondary school', in Coupland, M., Anderson, J. & Spencer, T. (eds), Making Mathematics Vital, Proceedings of the 20th Biennial Conference of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, pp. 243–252, AAMT, Adelaide.

Watson, J.M. & Callingham, R.A. 2003, 'Statistical Literacy: a complex hierarchical construct', Statistics Education Research Journal, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 3–46.

Willis, S. 1992, 'Being Numerate: Whose right? Who's left?', Literacy and Numeracy Exchange, Autumn 1992.

Zevenbergen, R. & Zevenbergen, K. 2009, 'The Numeracies of Boatbuilding: new numeracies shaped by workplace technologies', International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 183–206.