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Citizen Maths: helping adults break through the learning barrier

The focus on resits of GCSE maths may seem relentless – but there are wider challenges providers need to address

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About 10 million adults in Britain have gone through the education system without gaining confidence in maths at level 2, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2013 Survey of Adult Skills suggests. But even if learners reach this standard, it doesn't necessarily make them fluent in applying mathematical principles to everyday life and work.

A constant cycle of fear reinforces an irrational belief in too many adults and young people that they will never be able to use maths. But Citizen Maths exists to overcome this challenge. It is a free, open online course that looks at maths from a different perspective – engaging learners in familiar activity to reveal the "maths inside". The focus is on the immediate relevance of maths to the problems we all have to solve every day.

These problems range from comparing deals and prices on groceries and creating a household budget to understanding a payslip, coming up with sales forecasts, keeping track of savings and pensions, controlling a production process and even making political judgements. By putting problems in meaningful contexts, learners who do Citizen Maths can grasp the power of the underlying mathematical ideas.

We have three main groups in mind for Citizen Maths. First, there are the self-motivated individuals who want to develop their grasp of maths at level 2. Second, many employers and groups such as the TUC's Unionlearn want to provide staff with a practical and flexible learning and development opportunity in maths. Third, it gives colleges and other learning providers the opportunity to give learners additional or alternative routes to improving their maths.

We know from discussions with current users that some parents find Citizen Maths useful when helping their children with maths. Also, teachers find it interesting because of its unique approach to the subject.

It works by using short videos and explanatory screen-casts by experienced maths tutors Paula Philpott from South Eastern Regional College in Northern Ireland, and Noel-Ann Bradshaw from the University of Greenwich. There are also frequent “low stakes” quizzes to help learners check their understanding. A four-minute screen-cast at the bottom of the page shows how Citizen Maths works from a learner's point of view.

Our priority is to maximize the number of people wanting to improve their grasp of maths at Level 2. To find out more, or to create an account, go to

Seb Schmoller directs Citizen Maths, a Ufi Charitable Trust project supported by Calderdale College, the UCL Institute of Education and OCR to create a free, open, online maths course at level 2. Schmoller worked in further education until 2002 and has been a governor of a large urban FE college since 2008. Between 2003 and 2012, he was chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology

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