|Action Research Report on «Reflect» - Education Research Paper No.17 (DFID, 1996, 96 p.)|
|2. Theoretical roots of the new method: reflect|
Most literacy programmes either overlook numeracy or treat it as being of secondary importance to reading and writing words. Even the more radical and progressive literacy programmes rarely adapt the teaching of numeracy to adults and most fall back on traditional methods - treating adults like children.
This is a serious problem because most adults already have considerable numeracy skills. Most adult learners know oral counting and some mathematical structures and have an art of mental arithmetic more or less adequate for their daily life, Some non-literate people (especially those involved in trade) may be better at mental arithmetic than "educated" people.
You do not have to teach people to speak before you teach them to read and write. Likewise you do not need to teach people to count or add up before you teach them written numeracy.
So what is the value of written numeracy? It is necessary primarily because people are aware of the limitations of memory for keeping numbers in mind and for memorising daily events involving numbers. With complex calculations people lose track of the sub-totals in their heads. Being able to write down numbers in such situations is a huge help - but it is not a matter of knowing how to write 1 or 6 or 10 - rather, the need is usually to be able to write down larger numbers. A numeracy programme must reach this level of teaching useful skills at an early stage. It should also focus on numeracy encountered in written form in people's daily lives and in helping people with different types of record keeping that might be of practical use to them (household accounts/ small scale business accounts/ projections etc).
To develop a numeracy programme suitable for adults, the starting point should be people's daily experience (the actual situations and types of calculation they have to do). This requires a socio-mathematical survey prior to starting the numeracy programme - but this is very rarely done. Efforts should be made to reinforce (rather than undermine or replace) mental arithmetic skills, so that there is a substantial improvement in the way that people carry out existing required calculations at the necessary point in everyday life. A well-targeted numeracy programme drawing on such approaches may be just as empowering or more empowering than literacy - as it can give people very practical skills for their everyday life. The REFLECT approach seeks to build in such elements, respecting adults as adults, and focusing on practical numeracy.