Numerate behaviour is a multifaceted concept. In the CENF we distinguish between four main categories of aspects context, content knowledge and skills, higher-order skills, and dispositions.

What matters to improve numerate behavior

The CENF model about numerate behaviour shows that numeracy is always embedded in a context. That context can be everyday life very close to daily activities of the individual. The context can also be societal, for instance in interpreting messages in (social) media, advertisements online of in flyers. The context can also be work-related when using numerate behaviour in all kind of professional settings from simple lists of numbers to complex algoritm-driven applications.

In some countries “further learning” is mentioned as an importnat context, when the educational system is mainly focused on entering a more formal pathways theorugh the educational system. In many cases the content is then labeled as mathematics.

Each activity in adult education will probably be related to at least one of the context situations. This may depend on how provisions for adults have been organized. Courses related to work, for example, will have a clear focus on the work situation, but may also focus on more general topics for the individual participants. Courses organized for financial literacy will have a clear focus on budgeting. Courses meant for second language learners may also focus on further learning.

Content knowledge and skills matter to improve numerate behaviour. The first four subcategories – quantity and number; dimension and shape, pattern, relationship and change; data and chance; –  can be found in most frameworks regarding mathematics or numeracy outside the formal school system. They can be considered as the contemporary replacements of the Algebra-and-Geometry-division which dominated the 19th and 20th century.  The use of (digital) tools and applications is another set of subcategories which nowadays matters to cope with situations in our digitalised society.

Higher order skills matter to improve numerate behaviour. The skills mentioned can be found in some frameworks regarding mathematics or numeracy. There is an overlap with so-called 21srt century skills. Every individual – whatever his/her cognitive abilities and experiences – uses higher order skills. Everybody makes decisions, reasons, and processes information. Obviously these skills can also be improved by many individuals.
More information on aspects related to context cam be found at this page:

Higher order skills

Adult numeracy dispositions have been developed in the course of life, starting from childhood and compulsory school. They depend on their own capabilities, beliefs and feelings concerning mathematics, but have been influenced by external positive and negative experiences. It depends on what and how they learned mathematics in school and on experiences in their lived-in situations.
The better a student performs on mathematics in school, the more this may lead to good dispositions concerning mathematics and numeracy, like feeling confident with numbers, pleasure with numbers, recognizing the usefulness of mathematics and self-confidence.
On the opposite, students who encounter negative experiences may develop negative feelings for numbers, less self-confidence or even math-anxiety. The disappointment when receiving low marks for mathematics may have enormous influence on numeracy capacities of the future adult.

The results of mathematics experiences during school education become visible in numeracy situations where adults have to deal with their former school experiences. The more positive experiences, the more positive dispositions like pleasure with numbers and self-confidence will be developed. However, when the person meets negative experiences, like failing on mathematics tests, this may end up in negative feelings concerning mathematics and thereby also to numeracy.


One of the most interesting challenges of this endeavour of a CENF is to bridge also the language used in this domain. In the shop, all citizens make the same considerations and the same mental calculations (we think?) and reach often the same conclusions. However, in each language there are more than subtle differences in the words to describe this.

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