Numeracy, adult education, and vulnerable adults: a critical view of a neglected field

Iddo Gal, Anke Grotlüschen, Dave Tout, Gabriele Kaiser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-394
Number of pages18
JournalZDM - International Journal on Mathematics Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).


  • Adult education
  • Adult numeracy
  • Critical thinking
  • Literacy skills
  • Mathematics education
  • Vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Mathematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Numeracy, adult education, and vulnerable adults: a critical view of a neglected field'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this