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Early Numeracy is Essential for Canada’s Innovation Future

October 27, 2016

We hear it from youth all the time, “math is hard” or worse “I hate math.” These feelings toward math have contributed to youth disengagement in numeracy and usually arise from intimidation. This intimidation is largely due to that fact that the vast majority of youth have never had exposure to real world applications of math. Numeracy has been strongly linked to overall academic achievement and is foundational to all science, technology and engineering fields. The fact that Canadian youth are struggling with numeracy should be cause for great concern for everyone, especially parents and policy makers.

Canada2020’s Big Idea: A Canada-wide Transformation of Numeracy Skills report supports the need to engage youth in numeracy at a young age:

“Just as language skills are stressed early in a child’s life and any struggles are quickly identified and interventions implemented, we must do the same for numeracy skills.”

While the report primarily focuses on recommendations for Canada’s provincial governments  to implement, it also highlights the impact and barrier breaking that not-for-profit organizations can have. This includes equipping parents and schools with tool kits that help provide positive messages about numeracy, as well as out of school opportunities and activities to help develop better engagement in numeracy for both parents and youth.

The report also recognizes the need to build better numeracy skills in Canada’s underserved populations including Indigenous people and immigrants. I could not agree more, which is why Actua, with the support of our 35 university-based network members has put such a strong focus on engaging Canada’s most underserved populations in numeracy skills for the past 23 years.

Here are a few ways in which Actua is helping engage a quarter of a million youth per year, including 35,000 Indigenous youth, as well as parents and educators, in building numeracy skills outside of school:

Numeracy Underscores all of our Content: We ensure youth are given meaningful and relevant contexts to apply their skills and test their understanding of big math concepts. Our Codemakers Big Data  workshop and Codemakers Parity Magic activity are great examples of how we have youth apply their numeracy skills to topics like computer science and cyber security in ways that they value, understand, and can think about using in their future.

Connecting Youth with Role Models who Value Math: Our 35 university and college-based network members hire 1,000 undergraduate instructors each year who reinforce how imperative taking math was to their ability to choose any university or college classes. These instructors are seen as role models and are changing the conversation about math, giving it a better reputation and helping more people (especially girls and Indigenous people) feel welcomed and included.

Parent and Teacher Engagement: Through Actua’s unparalleled delivery of school workshops to youth in every province and territory, we are helping model and demonstrate more nuanced approaches to math education to a growing number of teachers. These workshops, while intended for youth, are also excellent professional development opportunities for educators to see new and novel approaches to math education.

Next steps
Only 20% of a student’s waking time is spent in school and 80% of it outside of school.  In order to ensure Canadian youth, especially those most underserved, are being engaged in numeracy, we need to ensure we also capitalize on that majority of time youth spend outside of school.  This is something that governments at all levels should be supporting, because without the fundamental skills in science, technology, engineering and math, Canada will not be equipped to compete in the global economy, which is increasingly relying on innovation capacity. 

We look forward to supporting the Canada2020 goals and making sure all of Canada gets an A+ in math on our next report card. 

Some of our favourite math resources: