More…or less? Towards a critical pedagogy of Adult Numeracy

Aileen Ackland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The development of socio-cultural understandings of mathematics combined with policy interest in adult numeracy as a result of international studies which compare skill levels in different countries, have impacted adult education practice in recent years. In Scotland, a ‘social practice approach’ is espoused and adult numeracy tutors are encouraged to add more to the learning experience – more context, more realia, more activity. But is this a sufficient pedagogic response to the insights from social practices theory and a socio-cultural perspective of mathematics? This paper draws on evidence from studies of practitioners’ understandings of social practices theory to argue that these responses are limited and potentially limiting of adult learners and represent a neo-deficit approach. Instead a critical pedagogy is required, which may require that the tutor bring less, not more, to the learning experience. Critical pedagogies would involve exploring with learners the powerful uses of mathematics in society. Adult numeracy learners could learn not only to understand the mathematics in use but to use mathematics for their own projects. The paper concludes with some thoughts on the kind of teacher education required to support tutors to become more critical in their pedagogy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-21
Number of pages15
JournalAdults Learning Mathematics – An International Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014

Bibliographical note

This paper developed from a keynote presentation at the Adults Learning Mathematics research group conference of July 2013. I am very grateful to the conference organisers for the invitation to address the group and for the opportunity to meet with researchers, many of whom have influenced my thinking as I have traversed the boundaries between literacy and numeracy.


  • adult numeracy
  • social practices
  • critical pedagogy


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