FET Mathematical Literacy

The competencies developed through Mathematical Literacy allow individuals to make sense of, participate in and contribute to the twenty-first century world — a world characterised by numbers, numerically based arguments and data represented and misrepresented in a number of different ways. Such competencies include the ability to reason, make decisions, solve problems, manage resources, interpret information, schedule events and use and apply technology. Learners must be exposed to both mathematical content and real-life contexts to develop these competencies. Mathematical content is needed to make sense of real-life contexts; on the other hand, contexts determine the content that is needed.

The subject Mathematical Literacy should enable the learner to become a self-managing person, a contributing worker and a participating citizen in a developing democracy. The teaching and learning of Mathematical Literacy should thus provide opportunities to analyse problems and devise ways to work mathematically in solving such problems. Opportunities to engage mathematically in this way will also assist learners to become astute consumers of the mathematics reflected in the media.


There are five key elements of Mathematical Literacy.

Mathematical literacy involves the use of elementary mathematical content

The mathematical content of Mathematical Literacy is limited to those elementary mathematical concepts and skills that are relevant to making sense of numerically and statistically based scenarios faced in the everyday lives of individuals (self-managing individuals) and the workplace (contributing workers), and to participating as critical citizens in social and political discussions. In general, the focus is not on abstract mathematical concepts. As a rule of thumb, if the required calculations cannot be performed using a basic four-function calculator, then the calculation is in all likelihood not appropriate for Mathematical Literacy. Furthermore, since the focus in Mathematical Literacy is on making sense of real-life contexts and scenarios, in the Mathematical Literacy classroom mathematical content should not be taught in the absence of context.

Mathematical literacy involves authentic real-life contexts

In exploring and solving real-world problems, it is essential that the contexts learners are exposed to in this subject are authentic (i.e. are drawn from genuine and reaslitic situations) and relevant, and relate to daily life, the workplace and the wider social, political and global environments. Wherever possible, learners must be able to work with actual real-life problems and resources, rather than with problems developed around constructed, semi-real, contrived and/ or fictitious scenarios. E.g. learners must be exposed to real accounts containing complex and “messy” figures rather than contrived and constructed replicas containing only clean and rounded figures.
Alongside using mathematical knowledge and skills to explore and solve problems related to authentic real-life contexts, learners should also be expected to draw on non-mathematical skills and considerations in making sense of those contexts. E.g. although calculations may reveal that a 10 kg bag of maize meal is the most cost-effective, consideration of the context may dictate that the 5 kg bag will have to be bought because the 10 kg bag cannot fit inside the taxi and/or the buyer does not have enough money to buy the 10 kg bag and/or the buyer has no use for 10 kg, etc. In other words, mathematical content is simply one of many tools that learners must draw on in order to explore and make sense of appropriate contexts.

Mathematical literacy involves solving familiar and unfamiliar problems

It is unrealistic to expect that in the teaching of Mathematical Literacy learners will always be exposed to contexts that are specifically relevant to their lives, and that they will be exposed to all of the contexts that they will one day encounter in the world. Rather, the purpose of this subject is to equip learners with the necessary knowledge and skills to be able to solve problems in any context that they may encounter in daily life and in the workplace, irrespective of whether the context is specifically relevant to their lives or whether the context is familiar. Learners who are mathematically literate should have the capacity and confidence to interpret any real-life context that they encounter, and be able to identify and perform the techniques, calculations and/or other considerations needed to make sense of the context. In this sense Mathematical Literacy develops a general set of skills needed to deal with a particular range of problems.

If Mathematical Literacy is seen in this way, then a primary aim in this subject is to equip learners with a set of skills that transcends both the mathematical content used in solving problems and the context in which the problem is situated. In other words, both the mathematical content and the context are simply tools: the mathematical content provides learners with a means through which to explore contexts; and the contexts add meaning to the mathematical content. But what is more important is that learners develop the ability to devise and apply both mathematical and non-mathematical techniques and considerations in order to explore and make sense of any context, whether the context is familiar or not.

Mathematical literacy involves decision making and communication.

A mathematically literate individual is able to weigh up options by comparing solutions, make decisions regarding the most appropriate choice for a given set of conditions, and communicate decisions using terminology (both

mathematical and non-mathematical) appropriate to the context. In the teaching of Mathematical Literacy, teachers should provide learners with opportunities to develop and practise decision-making and communication skills.

Mathematical literacy involves the use of integrated content and/or skills in solving problems

The content, skills and contexts in this document are organised and categorised according to topics. However, problems encountered in everyday contexts are never structured according to individual content topics. Rather, the solving of real-life problems commonly involves the use of content and/or skills drawn from a range of topics, and so, being able to solve problems based in real-life contexts requires the ability to identify and use a wide variety of techniques and skills integrated from across a range of content topics.

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