Policy brief published: Adult numeracy: Assessment and development

22 December 2020

Adult numeracy is key to improving citizens’ lives and supporting the development of jobs markets, economies and societies around the globe. However, its importance is all too often overlooked, in terms of both numeracy education (for adults and in schools) and monitoring of skill levels by credible direct assessment. The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) has published a policy brief to support the assessment and development of adult numeracy worldwide.

Recent changes in the world of work, such as jobs growth in the information and service sectors, mean that today’s workers need adequate numeracy skills in order to adapt (Jonas, 2018). Numeracy competency is also linked to important aspects of individual well-being, such as health and active citizenship (OECD, 2019). The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the prime importance of numeracy skills. The public‘s ability to understand and analyse the large volumes of statistical information and projections that are being circulated via media channels has become crucial to the success of national measures aimed at reducing infection rates and easing the social and economic consequences of the pandemic.

Existing data, however, suggests that many adults do not have sufficient numeracy skills. The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), for example, notes that a large percentage of the adult population – 30 to 60 per cent in middle-income countries and 10 to 40 per cent in high-income countries – have low or very low levels of numeracy proficiency (OECD, 2019). Furthermore, many countries have no data on which to base an assessment of their existing numeracy gaps.

The UIL policy brief highlights these challenges and recommends:

  1. adopting a long-range national strategy focusing on adult numeracy that involves the use of direct numeracy measures (distinct from literacy);
  2. investing in the development of national capacities to measure and improve adult numeracy skills;
  3. developing a creative and scalable monitoring approach that reflects the respective country’s demographic and linguistic diversity.

Read the full policy brief, Adult numeracy: Assessment and development