Citizen Maths: free, open mathematical literacy for everyone

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Question number 2 on the “is this right for you quiz” left me confused.

How is this a yes/no question:

  1. I can do as much or as little of the course as I want. If I decide to
    do all of the course, it might take me around 35 hours, spread over as
    long or short a time as I want. Once registered, you can start right away if you wish to.


In general, math is best taught in a system where you can do lots of exercises and get human feedback on them. In the US courses in “consumer math” have been available at community colleges for decades, and they are ideal for this kind of remediation. Open online systems work well for the very tiny fraction of the population which is highly motivated to learn something and willing to do the work in an unstructured setting. I don’t see how this project is going to make much of a dent.

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Giving this away for free isn’t enough because it’s not a thing many actually want. I do some recreational math for fun and have been working on learning more math since I find it fun and interesting, but if I mention this to most people they look at me like I’ve just revealed I’m an alien. Free isn’t what you need - the motivation to want to learn and keep at it when you start to hit blocks is. Enrolling in a course with instructors there in person is going to work much better since it’s still faster and easier to help someone who’s physically present and there’s some added external motivation to help students press on with subjects that require time and effort to master.

It’s “yes”. What are you, innumerate? :wink:

I think the point is to avoid actually hiring math teachers. You wouldn’t want to actually provide well-paying jobs when you can just “disrupt” education.


Thanks for this feedback. We’ve changed the wording of this question so that it is more clearly a Yes/No proposition.
David (Citizen Maths project team)


Our intention is to take a small bit of the the strain off the hard-pressed and finite number of maths teachers by providing a solution that works for people who are willing and able to learn on their own. Or indeed for people who might be referred to Citizen Maths by their maths teachers and coached through it.
David (Citizen Maths project team)

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I don’t think our Citizen Maths team would disagree strongly with much of what you say. We try to be careful to specify the conditions where our course will work best – exactly as you describe, with self-motivated adult learners – and not to overhype the applicability of what we are doing. In the UK, government and other estimates suggest there are around 10 million people whose maths at the level we’re addressing is sub-optimal. If we could reach 1% of that group, at very low cost per learner, the investment would be worth it. We are hopeful that, through ‘blended’ solutions – such as having colleges refer some learners to our course and coach them through it – the course might form part of the solution for a wider group.
David (Citizen Maths project team)


It sounds like you are creating what we would describe as a curriculum. There’s nothing wrong with that; remedial consumer maths courses are ubiquitous in the US, especially in 2-year schools, and there are many curricula available for them. Even in universities here such courses have gradually supplanted the more traditional uni-level “survey of math for liberal arts majors” courses because the students were increasingly not ready for the latter…but that’s just a depressing sidetrack.

I understand that these US courses might not be suitable for UK use, and providing them free and open is fantastic, the corresponding US curricula are major profit centers for the publishers.

Ultimately though the only effective solution will be to make this instruction more effective while the students are still in school.

Every time the damn PISA rankings come out, countries in the West (except Finland) agonize over their positions. It completely distorts academic priorities, and derails the conversation over how we need to make all of school, not just math class, engaging for more students. Speaking as a maths professor, I love Pisa (and pizza), but hate PISA.

I appreciate your response, but please understand that I live here in California, USA, where MOOCs have been put forward as the solution to the so-called education crisis for years, and reducing labor costs is honestly listed as a benefit. Best of luck to you.

You are right about the agonising on PISA, and the distortion that country reactions to PISA rankings induce.

Leaving aside that impact of PISA, what do you make of PISA 2015 Mathematics Framework itself?

The sense we got is that as frameworks go it is better than many. You may also be interested in this “thinking behind it” piece on the Citizen Maths blog. Comments very welcome.

Seb Schmoller

The Framework reads like every other document on mathematical literacy I’ve seen in the last 25 years. The only part that really matters is the choice of subjects that the exams cover, and the list (on Page 73) reads much like a list of topics already in school math classes (in the US), and I suspect that the rest of the document was created with that target already in mind. Again, this might all be newer for the UK than it is for us.

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