Shifting the Gaze: From the Numerate Individual to Their Numerate Environment
Posted by Laura McLoughlin on October 20, 2021 in categoryFacts & Research

Growing attention is being paid to numeracy as adults increasingly manage more of their own economic and social well-beings. "In Shifting the Gaze: From the Numerate Individual to Their Numerate Environment," the authors examine how adults engage in numeracy as a key adult competency. 

In a literate environment, the goal is not literacy itself, but rather to be able to find and use information in a social context. Drawing on this idea, the authors lay out a conceptual framework to develop a numerate environment relevant to adults’ daily lives. 

This article can be found in the new issue of Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Numeracy, and Language. Read an excerpt:  

In an earlier paper (Evans et al., 2017), we introduced the notion of the numerate environment as a way of beginning to interrogate how contexts can both afford and constrain numeracy practices. We argued that this in turn has implications for how we might conceptualise assessments of, and initiatives to support, numeracy development. We aim in this primarily conceptual paper to further develop our concept of the numerate environment, by articulating a framework for analysis. We suggest that a numerate environment has the three dimensions of opportunities, supports, and demands for adults’ numeracy activity, plus barriers that individuals may encounter. We now group all four of these dimensions as affordances (van Lier, 2000). We explore ways of changing the focus of our analysis of policy and practice in adult numeracy from the (more or less) "skilled" individual to the environment in which that individual functions. We see this environment as made up of various social institutions and organisations, characterised by (recurrent) social practices, that can be understood as functioning at three "levels," we explore these levels in a range of short examples and in two case studies. The three levels we consider here are the micro (the individual in small face-to-face groups), the mid-level (groups and institutions in civil society), and the macro (societal) levels.  

We argue that developing the concept of the numerate environment allows those concerned with research and policy to frame the variations in levels of numeracy proficiency among the population, at least partly as a societal, and not merely an individual, problem. Thus, we build on the work of researchers such as Reder (2009) who show how people’s literacy and numeracy skills development cannot be fully understood in isolation from their engagement in social practices that call upon the use of such literacy and numeracy skills.  

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