Critical perspectives on adults' mathematics education

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Third International Handbook of Mathematics Education, 2013, pp. 203 - 242
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013. All rights are reserved. Adults' mathematics education (AME) as a field of study and practice displays a broad range of settings for teaching and learning and for research. At the same time, its activities develop in a dynamic context of globalization, competition, and social insecurity. AME is faced with the same struggle for its justification, between humanistic and human capital goals of education, that adult education and lifelong education have been facing over the last half-century. This struggle is reflected in AME practice, research and policy. In this chapter, we formulate critical perspectives for examining AME in these three dimensions with a view to helping ourselves and others to clarify and act in crucial areas. Thus, we examine multiple and contested meanings of key terms like numeracy, and how definitions vary depending on whether they seek to foreground the individual learners' needs or particular economic imperatives (for example, labour market needs). We illuminate how such variable definitions are experienced by AME learners and practitioners, and how they lead us to problematize ideas such as "the transfer of learning" of mathematics, for example, from school to work, and from formal to non-formal or informal learning situations. It is timely now, when a new international survey of adults' skills, the OECD-sponsored Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is being conducted, to question what these surveys can tell us for the development of AME as a field, and what alternative questions we need to be pursuing independently.
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