Mathematics and Numeracy…What’s the difference?

The fundamentals of mathematics and numeracy are similar and can be difficult to differentiate between them. These two subjects have the same foundation as they require the use of mathematical knowledge to solve problems however, these terms are not interchangeable (Alberta). As the two elements are very similar, this blog aims to provide a better understanding of both the rudiments of mathematics compared to numeracy.
Since they are very similar, it can be confusing to recognize if there is indeed, a difference. The online dictionary provides the following definitions.
• Mathematics: A group of related sciences, including algebra, geometry, and calculus, concerned with the study of number, quantity, shape, and space and their interrelationships by using a specialized notation (Co, 2012).
• Numeracy: The ability to use numbers, esp. in arithmetical operations (Co., 2012).
Both elements are interrelated. To help form a greater understanding of their interrelationship, Figure 1 below provides a visual interpretation. Figure 1 was found on a numeracy fact sheet that Alberta education provides for public access2 (Alberta).

Figure1:Venn Diagram depicting the inter-relationships of mathematical skills, contextual understanding and confidence. Summing up Numeracy.

Figure 1 shows that mathematics; the study of number, quantity, space and shape is a component of numeracy. There are two other components to numeracy, being contextual understanding and confidence.
Numeracy involves examining a situation, (for example figuring out how much time you have left to complete a task) understanding the mathematics equation to achieve a solution and reaching an educated decision using the context of mathematics (Liljedahl, 2013).
Listed below are some differences between mathematics and numeracy in an everyday life situations to support the above description.

Situation 1- Figuring out how much time you have left before going to work
• Mathematics – using the correct calculation to figure out the amount of time before needing to leave for work.
• Numeracy – understanding time and how long it takes to get ready.

Situation 2 – Choosing the cheapest mobile phone plan.
• Mathematics – calculating the difference in the plans and know how much you will save or spend.
• Numeracy – understanding your budget and what you can afford (Alberta)

Situation 3 – The cost of petrol.
• Mathematics – how many liters to be filled and the cost per liter.
• Numeracy – knowing how to calculate the cost and budgeting it in.
The ability to use mathematics to understand and work with numbers, being numeracy, is an important skill in the 21st century. According to Thoughtful Learning K12, the 21st Century skills are necessary for students to navigate the information age in which we now live (learning, 2007). See appendix 1 for the P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning. This was developed to define and illustrate the skills and knowledge students need to succeed in work, life and citizenship as well as systems necessary for 21st century learning outcomes4 (learning, 2007).
Prior to the 21st Century an average individual could successfully navigate life with basic mathematics and were considered numerate (DifferenceBetween.Com., 2012). In the world we now live, more numeracy skill is required to function in the 21st century. The information age has changed the way banking, financing, budgeting, home renovations, contract negotiation, landscaping, maintenance and most requiring technical computer skills. Numeracy includes the willingness and awareness of using information technology to navigate the mathematics required to be confident in living everyday life (DifferenceBetween.Com., 2012).
In conclusion numeracy is a fundamental skill to help an individual progress in life with the understanding how to solve mathematical equations. Mathematics is the knowledge in numbers and space to solving life equations.




Alberta. Numeracy fact sheet
Co, W. C. S. (Ed.) (2012) Collins English Dictionary. Harper Collins Publishers.
Co., W. C. S. (Ed.) (2012) Collins English Dictionary. Harper Collins Publishers.
DifferenceBetween.Com. (2012). Difference Between Numeracy and Mathematics. Retrieved from >
learning, P. p. f. s. c. (2007). Framework for 21st century learning.
Liljedahl, P. L., M. (2013). Numeracy Vector, 2, 34-39.

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Hi my name is Brier and i was born and raised in QLD Australia. I have recently started uni in high school teaching and in this blog i will be answering questions relating to an assignment about literacy and numeracy. there for painting you a mental pitcher of literacy and numeracy.

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