Citizen Maths: Helping to Tackle Britain's Maths Challenge

10/08/2016 12:05 | Updated 10 August 2016

Numbers are as much a part of our lives as is reading, yet society lacks the expectation that everyone should be able to "do maths". Thankfully there are relatively few people unable to read basic English, but It is not unusual to hear people from all educational backgrounds say that they are no good at maths. Yet the ability to apply mathematical ideas and work with numbers is fundamental to many day to day tasks and also to understand the world around us. Fortunately, the new Citizens Maths programme has an approach that makes learning maths attractive.

The OECD's 2013 Survey of Adult Skills found that about 10 million adults in Britain have gone through the education system without gaining confidence in maths at Level 2, the level that 16-year-old school students are expected to achieve. Around 60% of today's young people now reach this level. This lack of maths fluency in the adult population holds people back from progressing in work or further study.

To tackle this Citizen Maths is available as a free open online Level 2 maths course for adults who want to improve their grasp of the subject. It was been developed over the last two years with funding from the Ufi Charitable Trust, by Calderdale College, working with the UCL Institute of Education, and OCR, and with advice from the Google Course Builder team. Its design takes into account the OECD's PISA 2015 Mathematics Framework, which defines the "mathematical literacy" assessed in OECD's influential Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The recently launched new version of the course covers five ideas in mathematics and relates them to corresponding ideas in everyday life. The examples are ones that people experience, or issues that arise in the media and day to day conversation. The five ideas are proportion, uncertainty, representation, pattern and measurement. One example illustrating proportion uses mixing baking ingredients, while uncertainty tackles the meaning of health screening results and the likelihood of certain outcomes in slot machines. Under representation there are sections on understanding how to read graphs and how to interpret data. There's even a lesson on predicting the number of seats political parties will get based on opinion poll ratings.

Each part of the course covers one idea in maths, and is designed to take between 5 and 10 hours to complete. Set out in short sections supported by video tutorials, practical exercises and quizzes there is nothing frightening or off putting. Being able to take tests without anyone checking is another big plus, allowing learners to build their confidence at their own pace.

Each idea is explored through several different contexts. For example, "uncertainty" involves the following situations:
● making decisions -- value of insurance, risk comparisons;
● judging -- the meaning of cancer screening results;
● gaming -- appreciating odds in roulette, dice, horse-racing;
● modelling -- the uncertain prediction of the weather.

The video tutorials are by experienced maths tutors Paula Philpott (from South Eastern Regional College in Northern Ireland), and Noel-Ann Bradshaw (from the University of Greenwich).

Available on the internet, it is very easy to register and start the course. With the benefit of being able to work at your own pace, and repeat sections when you need to, there really is nothing to fear. Once registered it is easy to stop and return at any time. It is suitable for anyone wanting to learn more about maths concepts and to practice using them. The ideas don't have to be accessed sequentially so it's possible to pick and choose which sections to work on.

There are a range of approaches for the practical exercises. These vary from spreadsheets to purpose built "apps", and also traditional methods such as pen and paper and calculators. For adults who have never used spreadsheets the combination of videos and the ability to practice and experiment ensure an easy way to appreciate how to use them. For those who are feeling more confident there is even some coding in Scratch, an educational programming language, through which learners can put the mathematical ideas into practice and prove to themselves they have grasped them.

Free, accessible and easy to use, this course has the potential to help many people better understand and use maths in their everyday life. Whether as an individual, an employer or a provider of courses, Citizen Maths could be just what you have been looking for.

Still not convinced? Go to this three-minute video with John Rees Principal and CEO of Calderdale College, Seb Schmoller Project Director and Professor Dave Pratt maths education expert from the UCL Institute of Education to see an overview of Citizen Maths:

Or even better go and have a look at the course for yourself:

For more information on becoming a Citizen Maths partner see: