Mathematical literacy is an individual’s capacity to formulate, employ, and interpret mathematics in a variety of contexts. It includes reasoning mathematically and using mathematical concepts, procedures, facts, and tools to describe, explain, and predict phenomena. It assists individuals to recognize the role that mathematics plays in the world and to make the well-founded judgments and decisions needed by constructive, engaged, and reflective citizens.
Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), Measuring Up: Canadian Results of the OECD PISA Study, 2016, p. 10
Mathematical literacy involves more than executing procedures. It implies a knowledge base and the competence and confidence to apply this knowledge in the practical world. A mathematically literate person can estimate; interpret data; solve day-to-day problems; reason in numerical, graphical, and geometric situations; and communicate using mathematics.
As knowledge expands and the economy evolves, more people are working with technologies or working in settings where mathematics is a cornerstone. Problem solving, the processing of information, and communication are becoming routine job requirements. Outside the workplace, mathematics arises in many everyday situations. Mathematical literacy is necessary both at work and in daily life.
Mathematical literacy is as important as proficiency in reading and writing. Mathematics is so entwined with today’s way of life that we cannot fully comprehend the information that surrounds us without a basic understanding of mathematical ideas. Confidence and competence in mathematics lead to productive participation in today’s complex information society, and open the door to opportunity.
The Scope of Mathematical Literacy
Mathematical literacy encompasses the ability to:
- estimate in numerical or geometric situations
- know and understand mathematical concepts and procedures
- question, reason, and solve problems
- make connections within mathematics and between mathematics and life
- generate, interpret, and compare data
- communicate mathematical reasoning
Mathematical literacy has several dimensions – for example, numerical literacy, spatial literacy, and data literacy – and extends beyond the mathematics classroom to other fields of study.
Teachers should take advantage of the abundant opportunities that exist for fostering mathematical literacy across the curriculum. All teachers have a responsibility to communicate the view that all students can and should do mathematics.