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What do we mean by “Numeracy Skills”?

A lot of people talk about the need for basic numeracy skills for every child. Have you ever taken time to interrogate the idea of achieving numeracy? What do we mean by numeracy? Where do we use numeracy in life?

With the growth of data science and other quantitative STEM subjects, there have been increased calls from parents, industry and teachers for more emphasis on numeracy. Machine leaning and artificial intelligence have really been behing the increased interest in subjects like mathematics and statistics.

Lets go back to the basics and talk about what skills one needs to be able to attain basic numeracy.

Students become numerate as they develop the knowledge and skills to use mathematics confidently across other learning areas at school and in their lives more broadly. Numeracy encompasses the knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions that students need to use mathematics in a wide range of situations. It involves students recognising and understanding the role of mathematics in the world and having the dispositions and capacities to use mathematical knowledge and skills purposefully.

When teachers identify numeracy demands across the curriculum, students have opportunities to transfer their mathematical knowledge and skills to contexts outside the mathematics classroom. These opportunities help students recognise the interconnected nature of mathematical knowledge, other learning areas and the wider world, and encourage them to use their mathematical skills broadly.

Key ideas

The key ideas for Numeracy are organised into six interrelated elements in the learning continuum, as shown below.


Organising elements for Numeracy

Estimating and calculating with whole numbers

This element involves students using numbers for different purposes.

Students apply skills in estimating and calculating with whole numbers to solve and model everyday problems in a wide range of authentic contexts using efficient mental, written and digital strategies. They identify situations where money is used and apply their knowledge of the value of money to purchasing, budgeting and justifying the use of money. In developing and acting with numeracy, students:

  • understand and use numbers in context
  • estimate and calculate
  • use money.

Recognising and using patterns and relationships

This element involves students identifying trends and describing and using a wide range of rules and relationships to continue and predict patterns.

Students apply their understanding of patterns and relationships when solving problems in authentic contexts.

Using fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios and rates

This element involves students developing an understanding of the meaning of fractions and decimals, their representations as percentages, ratios and rates, and how they can be applied in real-life situations.

Students visualise, order and describe shapes and objects using their proportions and the relationships of percentages, ratios and rates to solve problems in authentic contexts. In developing and acting with numeracy, students:

  • interpret proportional reasoning
  • apply proportional reasoning.

Using Spatial Reasoning

This element involves students making sense of the space around them.

Students visualise, identify and sort shapes and objects, describing their key features in the environment. They use symmetry, shapes and angles to solve problems in authentic contexts and interpret maps and diagrams, using scales, legends and directional language to identify and describe routes and locations. In developing and acting with numeracy, students:

  • visualise 2D shapes and 3D objects
  • interpret maps and diagrams.

Interpreting statistical information

This element involves students gaining familiarity with the way statistical information is represented.

Students solve problems in authentic contexts that involve collecting, recording, displaying, comparing and evaluating the effectiveness of data displays of various types. They use appropriate language and numerical representations when explaining the outcomes of chance events. In developing and acting with numeracy, students:

  • interpret data displays
  • interpret chance events.

Using Measurement

This element involves students learning about measurement of length, area, volume, capacity, time and mass.

Students estimate, measure, compare and calculate using metric units when solving problems in authentic contexts. They read clocks and convert between time systems, identify and sequence dates and events using a calendar and use timetables for a variety of purposes. In developing and acting with numeracy, students:

  • estimate and measure with metric units
  • operate with clocks, calendars and timetables.

Numeracy in learning areas

Much of the explicit teaching of numeracy skills occurs in Mathematics. Students need to recognise that mathematics is constantly used outside the mathematics classroom and that numerate people apply general mathematical skills in a wide range of familiar and unfamiliar situations.

Using mathematical skills across the curriculum enriches the study of other learning areas and contributes to the development of a broader and deeper understanding of numeracy. Therefore, a commitment to numeracy development is an essential component of learning areas across the curriculum and a responsibility for all teachers and parents. It is essential that the mathematical ideas with which students interact are relevant and meaningful in the context of their lives. This means that all teachers:

  • identify the specific numeracy demands of their learning area/s
  • provide learning experiences and opportunities that support the application of students’ general mathematical knowledge and skills
  • should be aware of the correct use of mathematical terminology in their learning area/s and use this language in their teaching as appropriate.

The learning area or subject with the highest proportion of content descriptions tagged with Numeracy is placed first in the list.


Mathematics has a central role in the development of numeracy in a manner that is more explicit and foregrounded than is the case in other learning areas. It is important that the mathematics curriculum provides the opportunity to apply mathematical understanding and skills in context, in other learning areas and in real-world contexts. A particularly important context for the application of Number and Algebra is financial mathematics. In Measurement and Geometry, there is an opportunity to apply understanding to design. The twenty-first-century world is information driven, and through Statistics and Probability students can interpret data and make informed judgements about events involving chance.

Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS)

Humanities and Social Sciences, students develop numeracy capability as they learn discipline-specific knowledge about history, geography, civics and citizenship, and economics and business. As students pose questions, research, analyse, evaluate and communicate information, concepts and ideas, they apply a wide range of numeracy skills. Students count, estimate, measure, sequence and organise numerical data and information for analysis about the past, present and future. They construct and interpret tables and graphs and recognise and infer about patterns and distributions shown on maps, charts and in other formats. They calculate, interpret and manipulate statistics, learning to use statistical analysis to test relationships between variables and to predict probable and possible futures. They synthesise numerical data and texts to communicate information and support conclusions about social, economic and environmental issues.

Students learn to organise, interpret, analyse and present information in numerical and graphical form about historical and civic events and developments to make meaning of the past and present. They learn to use scaled timelines, including those involving negative and positive numbers, and calendars and dates to represent information on topics of historical significance and to illustrate the passing of time. In constructing and interpreting maps, students work with numerical concepts associated with grids, scale, distance, area and projections. They investigate the relationship between fundamental geographical concepts, for example, location and distance, spatial distributions, and the organisation and management of space within places. They learn to conduct community surveys and forecast economic outcomes, and how to represent and analyse findings as fractions, decimals and ratios in text, graphs and charts. They learn to appreciate the ways numeracy knowledge is used in society and apply these to hypothetical and/or real-life experiences. This includes understanding the principles of financial management to make informed financial and business decisions.


History, students develop numeracy capability as they learn to organise and interpret historical events and developments. Students learn to analyse numerical data to make meaning of the past; for example, to understand cause and effect, and continuity and change. Students learn to use scaled timelines, including those involving negative and positive numbers, as well as calendars and dates to recall information on topics of historical significance and to illustrate the passing of time.


Geography, students develop numeracy capability as they investigate concepts fundamental to geography, for example, the effects of location and distance, spatial distributions and the organisation and management of space within places. They apply numeracy skills in geographical analysis by counting and measuring, constructing and interpreting tables and graphs, calculating and interpreting statistics and using statistical analysis to test relationships between variables. In constructing and interpreting maps, students work with numerical concepts of grids, scale, distance, area and projections.

Civics and Citizenship

Civics and Citizenship, students develop and apply numeracy knowledge and skills to analyse, interpret and present information in numerical and graphical form. This includes investigating the voting process, researching and using statistics on civics and citizenship topics and issues, conducting surveys among community members and representing findings in graphs and charts.

Economics and Business

Economics and Business, students use numeracy to understand the principles of financial management, and to make informed financial and business decisions. They apply their numeracy knowledge and skills to display, interpret and analyse economics and business data, draw conclusions, make predictions and forecast outcomes. Through the study of economics and business, students appreciate the ways numeracy knowledge and skills are used in society and apply these to hypothetical and/or real-life experiences.


Technologies gives students opportunities to interpret and use mathematical knowledge and skills in a range of real-life situations. Students use number to calculate, measure and estimate; interpret and draw conclusions from statistics; measure and record throughout the process of generating ideas; develop, refine and test concepts; and cost and sequence when making products and managing projects. In using software, materials, tools and equipment, students work with the concepts of number, geometry, scale, proportion, measurement and volume. They use three-dimensional models, create accurate technical drawings, work with digital models and use computational thinking in decision-making processes when designing and creating best-fit solutions.


Many elements of numeracy are evident in Science, particularly in Science Inquiry Skills. These include practical measurement and the collection, representation and interpretation of data from investigations.

Students are introduced to measurement, first using informal units then formal units. Later, they consider issues of uncertainty and reliability in measurement. As students progress, they collect qualitative and quantitative data, which are analysed and represented in graphical forms. Students learn data analysis skills, including identifying trends and patterns from numerical data and graphs. In later years, numeracy demands include the statistical analysis of data, including issues relating to accuracy and validity, and the use of mathematical relationships to calculate and predict values and the use of mathematical tools to provide evidence in support of hypotheses or positions.

The Arts

In the Arts, students select and use relevant numeracy knowledge and skills to plan, design, make, interpret, analyse and evaluate artworks. Across The Arts subjects, students recognise and use: number to calculate and estimate; spatial reasoning to solve problems involving space, patterns, symmetry, 2D shapes and 3D objects; scale and proportion to show and describe positions, pathways and movements; and measurement to explore length, area, volume, capacity, time, mass and angles. Students work with a range of numerical concepts to organise, analyse and create representations of data relevant to their own or others’ artworks, such as diagrams, charts, tables, graphs and motion capture.

Health and Physical Education

In Health and Physical Education provides students with opportunities to use calculation, estimation and measurement to collect and make sense of information related to, for example, nutrition, fitness, navigation in the outdoors or various skill performances. Students use spatial reasoning in movement activities and in developing concepts and strategies for individual and team sports or recreational pursuits. Students interpret and analyse health and physical activity information using statistical reasoning, identifying patterns and relationships in data to consider trends, draw conclusions, make predictions and inform health behaviour and practices.


Numeracy skills are addressed in English in important and embedded ways from Foundation to Grade 10. Students use numeracy skills in the early years of schooling when they explore rhythms, syllables and sound patterns in stories, rhymes, songs and poems. In subsequent years, they learn about analytical images like figures, tables, diagrams, maps and graphs, and how they affect and complement verbal information in factual and persuasive texts. Numeracy concepts and skills are applicable when students are interpreting, analysing and creating texts involving quantitative and spatial information such as percentages and statistics, numbers, measurements and directions. When responding to or creating texts that present issues or arguments based on data, students also identify, analyse and synthesise numerical information using that understanding and textual understandings about objective and subjective language to discuss the credibility of sources.

The broad notion of texts in English includes visual and multimodal texts, the features of which may present a range of numeracy demands. Interpreting and creating visual representations requires students to examine relationships between various components of a narrative or argument and to sort information into categories including characteristics that can be measured or counted. Understanding the implied mathematical ideas behind visual organisers such as Venn diagrams and flowcharts helps students to make more effective visual choices in their own texts.


Languages afford opportunities for learners to use the target language to develop skills in numeracy, to understand, analyse, categorise, critically respond to and use mathematics in different contexts. This includes processes such as using and understanding patterns, order and relationships to reinforce concepts such as number, time or space in their own and in others’ cultural and linguistic systems.

Work Studies

In Work Studies, Grade 9–10, students develop the knowledge and skills to use mathematics confidently across all learning areas at school, in the workplace and socially. This curriculum involves the use of mathematical knowledge, understanding and skills to achieve workplace and career development outcomes. Students strengthen their numeracy skills by making direct connections between their mathematical learning and the nature of mathematics required in workplaces and enterprises. They use numeracy in any situation that requires calculation and estimation, measurement, spatial understanding and design, the application and analysis of statistics and graphs and the identification of patterns, analysis of trends and making predictions based on these.

Students recognise that financial literacy is a requirement across enterprises and that numeracy helps them manage salaries and personal and workplace budgets and calculate personal and enterprise tax liabilities. They identify tasks that require numeracy and are able to select the skills, processes and tools, including digital technologies that are needed to complete tasks to the desired standard.


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