Numeracy, adult education, and vulnerable adults: a critical view of a neglected field
This survey paper examines selected issues related to the intersection of three broad scholarly areas: numeracy, adult education, and vulnerability. Numeracy encompasses the ways in which people cope with the mathematical, quantitative, and statistical demands of adult life, and is viewed as an important outcome of schooling and as a foundational skill for all adults. The focus on vulnerability stems from the realization that concerns of policy makers and educators alike often center on populations seen as vulnerable. The paper is organized in five sections. After a brief introduction, Section 2 examines adult numeracy, focusing on five numeracy domains (health, financial, digital, civic, and workplace numeracy), literacy–numeracy linkages, functional and critical aspects of numeracy, and the centrality of numeracy practices, and notes sources of vulnerability for each of these. Section 3 sketches formal, non-formal and informal contexts in which adults learn or develop their numeracy, and examines factors that may be potential sources of vulnerability, including systemic factors and dispositional and affect factors. Section 4 reflects more broadly on the concept of vulnerability, introduces selected aspects of the papers published in this issue of ZDM Mathematics Education, and points to findings regarding adult learners who may be deemed vulnerable. The closing section summarizes conclusions and research directions regarding the intersection of the three core domains. Overall, the paper points to emerging research needs and educational challenges that are relevant to scholars, practitioners, and policy makers interested in developing the numeracy of adults as well as in the mathematics education of younger learners.