Why are numeracy rates important?
Numeracy skills enable children to engage in learning and ultimately to fully participate in society and lead productive lives.
Numeracy skills are a building block for further educational attainment, social development and employment. Numeracy is central to many areas of education, and life outside school. The OECD defines numeracy as the ability to access, use, interpret and communicate mathematical information and ideas, in order to engage in and manage the mathematical demands of a range of situations in adult life (Dumont 2012).
Numeracy is not limited to the ability to use numbers, to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Numeracy encompasses the ability to use mathematical understanding and skills to solve problems and meet the demands of day-to-day living in complex social settings (Dumont 2012). Children who are able to apply mathematical understanding and communicate effectively in a range of contexts – economic, technical, scientific and social – are best placed to succeed in education and in life (DECD 2013).
The national science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education strategy is focused on action that lifts foundation skills in STEM learning areas, develop mathematical, scientific and technological literacy, and promotes the development of the 21 st century skills of problem solving, critical analysis and creative thinking (Education Council 2015. International research shows that building STEM capacity across the population is critical in helping to support innovation and productivity regardless of occupation or industry (Education Council 2015).
Do numeracy rates vary across population groups?
In 2017 NAPLAN, the majority of Year 5 students (95%) met the national minimum standard for numeracy. Girls were slightly more likely to achieve at or above the national minimum standard than boys, with 96% of girls meeting the national minimum standard for numeracy compared to 95% of boys. Students from non-Indigenous backgrounds were more likely to achieve at or above the national minimum standard than Indigenous students (96% and 80%, respectively).
Students from a language background other than English (LBOTE) were slightly less likely to achieve at or above the national minimum standard in numeracy than their non-LBOTE counterparts (94% and 96%, respectively). Year 5 students in Remote or Very remote areas were less likely to achieve at or above the national minimum standard in numeracy than those in Major cities (87% and 61% of students respectively, compared with 96% of students in Major cities). The national minimum standard of numeracy was higher in Year 5 students whose parents had a Bachelor or Diploma (99% and 97%, respectively), compared with Year 12 and Year 11 education (94% and 86%, respectively).
Has there been a change over time?
The proportion of students achieving at or above the national minimum standard for numeracy has increased slightly since 2008, rising 2.7 percentage points from around 93% in 2008 to over 95% in 2017. Similar patterns were seen among boys and girls, with the proportion of boys achieving at or above the national minimum standard increasing 2.0 percentage points from almost 93% in 2008 to almost 95% in 2017, and the proportion of girls increasing 3.4 percentage points from around 93% in 2008 to almost 96% in 2017. The proportion of Indigenous students achieving at or above the national minimum standard for numeracy increased 11.0 percentage points from just over 69% in 2008 to just over 80% in 2017. For students with a LBOTE, the proportion of students achieving at or above the national minimum standard increased 3.4 percentage points from almost 91% to just over 94% between 2008 and 2017.
The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests are the only Australian assessments that provide nationally comparable data on the performance of students in the vital areas of literacy and numeracy. Year 5 numeracy data is being used for this indicator. Estimated percentage meeting the national minimum standards is based on assessed students. Year 5 corresponds to different average duration of formal schooling and average student age across the states and territories. Refer to source for details.
For Indigenous status, students for whom this was not stated are excluded from the Indigenous status analysis.
LBOTE refers to Language Background Other Than English.
Beginning in 2016, NAPLAN results are reported using the ABS Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) to classify each school’s geographical location (geolocation). As a result, the geolocation results obtained from the 2016 and 2017 NAPLAN are not directly comparable to those of previous cycles.
- Dumont, H, Istance, D, Benavides, F (Ed) 2012. The nature of learning using research to inspire practice. Centre for Education Research and Innovation, OECD.
- DECD (Department for Education and Child Development) 2013. Numeracy and literacy: a numeracy and literacy strategy from birth to 18. Adelaide: Government of South Australia (Department for Education and Child Development).
- Education Council 2015. National STEM school education strategy: a comprehensive plan for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in Australia.