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A Panorama of Statistics by Peter Petocz, Eric Sowey

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3 Statistical literacy – essential in the 21st century!

Numeracy, also called quantitative literacy, is an undervalued skill that struggles for recognition among educators and the general public. It is only since the turn of the century that governments in many developed countries have come around to recognising that a numerate citizenry is as important an attribute of an advanced society as a literate citizenry. But there have been lone voices urging this recognition for a long time, among them John Allen Paulos, whose 1988 book Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences made a considerable impact. Already more than a century ago, the British writer H.G. Wells foresaw that advancing numeracy would inevitably become a pressing need for society (for more on Wells’ prediction, see QUESTION 5.4).

By ‘numerate’, here, we mean ‘functionally numerate’. A basically numerate person is someone who recognises number symbols and correctly performs basic arithmetic. A functionally numerate person can also correctly interpret and meaningfully evaluate a logical argument couched in numbers. It should be clear that one does not need to know any advanced mathematics to be functionally numerate.

However, what is needed is not what one finds emphasised in calls for reform of the traditional high school mathematics curriculum. That is to say, making traditional school mathematics topics more interesting, more relevant to a career such as engineering or accountancy, or more ...

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