The Foundations of Numeracy

The team at Peace Child International have been investigating the foundations of numeracy.

We’re dedicated at working with the young people that are the most marginalised and vulnerable in the world. In low income countries this often means those uneducated and illiterate young people surviving day-by-day, having an unpredictable and variable income, below the poverty line.

In order to develop effective solutions to support them, We have been investigating the roots of numeracy and traditional visual ways people have represented numbers.

As part of this, we have been examining powerful traditional ways and methods to measure quantities across West Africa, using symbols (normally leaves or stones) and physically counting them.

So how does this type of counting work? 

In order to give the exact quantity in a sack of rice, the individual defines a leaf as having the weight we value as ten kilograms, and a stone symbolising the weight that we value as one kilogram. When the sack is full and has the total value of four leaves and ten stones, or 50kg. The individual selling grain can put four leaves and ten stones next to the sack so that they can keep note of how much is sold.

As the user takes out a known quantity, say a weight of 4 kilograms, they remove four stones, so the amount displayed using the leaves and stones equals the amount in the rice sack. This provides a simple visual way of representing a number, it can also provide the information we need to perform calculations.

Why use this method? 

The objective of this work is to see what techniques we can use to support illiterate people to record the information needed to gain a full sense of their income and outgoings, without relying on mankind’s fallible memory. Our efforts will aim to  provide better planning for self-sustaining businesses.

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