Citizen Maths: free, open mathematical literacy for everyone

Britain faces a major maths challenge. The challenge involves a stock of people and a flow of learners.

First, the stock. About 10 million adults in Britain have gone through the education system without gaining confidence in maths at Level 2 (this is the level that a 16-year old British school pupil would be expected to reach, although many do not), suggests the OECD's 2013 Survey of Adult Skills. This systemic lack of maths fluency in the adult population holds back people and their employers.

Secondly, the flow. Colleges and other learning providers in many countries are faced with a large number of Level 2 maths learners, with tight funding. In some countries the problem is compounded by a shortage of suitably qualified and experienced maths teachers.

Citizen Maths is a free open online Level 2 maths course for people who want to improve their grasp of maths.  We've been developing Citizen Maths over the last two years, with funding from the Ufi Charitable Trust, working with the UCL Institute of Education, and OCR (part of Cambridge Assessment), and with advice from the Google Course Builder team. The overwhelming bulk of Citizen Maths is CC-BY licensed, meaning that others can reuse the content with ease.

We have designed Citizen Maths using the OECD's PISA 2015 Mathematics Framework, which defines the mathematical literacy assessed in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

We chose the PISA framework partly because of its international reach, and partly because it has been based on the view that a "growing proportion of problems and situations encountered in daily life, including in professional contexts, require some level of understanding of mathematics, mathematical reasoning and mathematical tools, before they can be fully understood and addressed". We therefore believe that someone who has learned maths through Citizen Maths will have gained economically and socially valuable skills in mathematics.

We have just launched the final two parts of the course. These parts, which cover pattern and measurement, are added to existing parts on proportion, representation and uncertainty.

Each part of the course covers one powerful idea in maths. Each has been designed to take between 5 and 10 hours to complete. Each shows the idea in action in several different contexts. For example, uncertainty involves the following situations:

  • making decisions – value of insurance, risk comparisons;
  • judging – the meaning of cancer screening results;
  • gaming – appreciating odds in roulette, dice, horse-racing;
  • modelling – the uncertain prediction of the weather.

The powerful ideas and the situations in which they are shown in action have been selected in consultation with maths teachers, and with organisations familiar with the learning needs of adults.

Learning about each idea is supported with a mix of short video tutorials and with practical activities and quizzes.

The video tutorials are by experienced maths tutors Paula Philpott (from South Eastern Regional College in Northern Ireland), and Noel-Ann Bradshaw (from the University of Greenwich, in London).

The practical exercises use a range of approaches including:

  • tools like spreadsheets;
  • purpose-built "apps" – mainly built in the free MIT-developed educational programing language Scratch – enabling learners actively to experiment with the maths (there is also a small amount of coding in Scratch);
  • pen and paper, and calculator tasks.

We've just released this three minute video. In it, helped by Professor Dave Pratt from the UCL Institute of Education, and by adult learner Thariq Khan, we aim to give a clear sense of Citizen Maths to potential learners, to employers, to learning providers. and to community organisations.

Citizen Maths is but a small contribution to tackling the twin challenge described in our introduction.  To find out more about the course, go to For more information on becoming a Citizen Maths partner see To follow our updates on Twitter go to @CitizenMaths.

(Image: Jonathan Worth, CC BY-SA 4.0)

By John Rees (Principal and CEO of Calderdale College) and Seb Schmoller (Citizen Maths Project Director)