New Zealand women and their numeracy skills: what the adult literacy and life skills survey tells us and doesn’t tell us about the numeracy skills of New Zealand women
Coup, Janet Elizabeth
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The extant findings of the 2006 Adult Literacy and Lifeskills survey (ALL) are examined and some further quantitative analysis is undertaken to clarify the numeracy skills of New Zealand women. Fundamental questions are raised about both the design of the ALL survey and the relevance of the numeracy assessment questions used in the survey for investigating women and their numeracy skills used in everyday social practices. The ALL survey assessment uses a pen and paper test and poses questions which are reminiscent of school-based arithmetic testing. A distinction is drawn between ALL survey numeracy “scores” and actual numeracy “skills”. The ALL survey findings based on these assessment “scores” suggest over half of New Zealand women have inadequate numeracy skills. However, women overwhelmingly rate their numeracy skills as sufficient for both their daily life activities and their work demands. Women with the lowest levels of numeracy scores come from both the youngest and oldest age groups. This could be because numeracy skills of the youngest develop with age and the skills of the oldest decrease with lack of use. Furthermore, the oldest age group participated in significantly fewer years of formal education than the youngest age group. The evidence suggests that the amount of educational participation affects the development of numeracy scores. The ALL survey assessment questions were available only in English language and the complexity of the language nuances in the questions may have, in part, reflected language competence rather than numerical competence. New Zealand-born women show markedly poorer attitudes towards learning mathematics than their overseas-born counterparts. These attitudes may be learned early in life and may not be learned within the family. Several aspects of the design of the ALL survey are questioned, particularly the use of imputed skill scores based on limited demographic variables. In light of the limitations of the ALL survey, in terms of its design, administration, assessment-type questions and subsequent extant findings, the conclusion is drawn that the numeracy skills of women are likely to be greater than the ALL survey scores suggest.