Common European Numeracy Framework

Our world is drenched in technological and numeracy elements. People encounter problems in their home and work-life due to insufficient competencies to deal.

The need for numeracy

Too many European citizens lack the necessary numeracy competencies to participate autonomously and effectively in our technologized and number-drenched society and consequently many citizens are overlooked for certain jobs and have problems in their daily life, dealing with the abundance of number-related issues. The results of the last PIAAC survey (OECD, 2012, 2013, 2016; PIAAC Numeracy Expert Group, 2009) show that a quarter of the participating countries in PIAAC have results below level 2 of the 6-point scale. These results on numeracy give rise to serious cause for concern for the future economic development of Europe. This is an even more pressing issue since the amount of numerical data that needs to be interpreted and used is rapidly rising due to technological developments and the prevalence of (big) data.

What are 21st century numeracy skills?

Numeracy, literacy and digital skills are the pillars of basic skills for adults in the 21st century skills. In dealing with daily life situations, adults use a mixture of these abilities/skills/literacies. There is a strong necessity to lay out the relevant aspects which affect the quality of numerate behavior. Firstly, because our society is undergoing a strong so-called “mathematisation”, which means that increasingly  ways of communication  make use of mathematical structures and manifestations, like tables, diagrams, factors, algorithms, filters, hyperlinked networks, big data,  et cetera. The digitalisation and technologisation of our society makes it absolutely necessary to give adults the opportunity to improve the quality of their numerate behaviour.  Secondly, because despite these tendencies, numeracy is underresearched and in policy snowed under by literacy activities.

European numeracy strategy

On average, school leavers between the age of 16 and 24, perform at a lower level than people between the ages of 25 and 44 (OECD, 2016). The lack of numeracy skills among these people increases the risk of unemployment and may influence family life and social inclusion. In particular, low-skilled workers are at risk in the labour market, particularly when faced with adaptations in the labour market. The Council of the European Union emphasises that adult learning is a means for upskilling or reskilling those affected by unemployment, restructuring and career transition, while simultaneously it makes an important contribution towards social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development. The European Council recommends the enhancement of basic skills including literacy, numeracy, problem solving and digital skills as part of the Europe 2020 Strategy. In the frame of lifelong learning, therefore, adult numeracy education has an important role in the development of good programs for basic skills for the future.

Evidence-based policies and activities

Evidence informed adult numeracy education may be the key for attaining the goals set out in the Europe 2020 strategy. In most European countries, adult numeracy education is a locally based endeavour with a plethora of practices, some efficient, some less so. Furthermore, there are a variety of underlying assumptions on what constitutes good adult numeracy education. The availability of a good collection of (piloted) professional development modules, based on the CENF (which contains relevant content and insights for adults learning numeracy and mathematics), will generate a quality adult numeracy education across Europe, and thereby contribute to policies and activities which address the low-numeracy levels in many European countries. Effective numeracy education in European countries, based on a common framework, may lead to a higher level of societal participation and inclusion of adults, and thereby to improvement of the European economy.

In the Erasmus+ project Common European Numeracy Framework (CENF)  a comprehensive numeracy framework was developed to identify key factors in improving the quality of numerate behaviour of individuals. In short, the objective of this project is to first develop a Common European Numeracy Framework and secondly to expand and to improve the number and the quality of numeracy courses (or other relevant educational endeavours) offered to adults to improve their changes of prospering in society. To reach this objective, we will use on a multi-level approach for addressing teachers and volunteers that are involved in the delivery of numeracy courses, the teacher educators who deliver courses to those teachers and volunteers, and policy makers and other stakeholders who are responsible for creating opportunities for such courses. This multilevel approach already has started by connecting the associated partners to our goals in this application.

Future directions

HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, The Netherlands, is in charge of the project and works closely together with project partners BFI-OÖ, Linz, Austria, University of Barcelona, Spain, and University of Limerick, Ireland. A first draft of the framework will be published in November 2021. In follow-up projects the framework can be elaborated and validated through activities in the (international) practice of numeracy education of adults.