AWS Public Sector Blog

National Numeracy uses the cloud to help UK adults build confidence with everyday math

From setting a monthly budget to manage personal finances, to interpreting charts and data on the job, to helping children accomplish math homework, confidence in numeracy—the ability to understand and use math in real-life situations—plays a key role in everyday decision making and problem solving.

The United Kingdom (UK) government’s 2011 Skills for Life survey estimated that about 49% of UK adults had numeracy levels on par with primary school children. In response, National Numeracy—a nonprofit dedicated to helping people feel confident with numbers and using everyday math—was founded in 2012. Leveraging Amazon Web Services (AWS), National Numeracy established a digital-first approach to engage UK communities with educational resources that help improve real-world math skills.

Transforming attitudes about math to raise numeracy in UK communities

New research conducted for National Numeracy in May 2021 shows that 31% of UK adults struggle with everyday math, and 29% avoid situations that involve math. More than a quarter of respondents reported difficulty understanding numbers related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as case counts or measures of the disease’s ability to spread.

When faced with math problems, one National Numeracy beneficiary stated, “I just panic. I straight away feel like oh, I can’t do that, so I just try to avoid doing it altogether.” Another shared, “I got change at the shop and I kept thinking, ‘Is this right?’” Data suggests that without confidence in using everyday math, it may be harder for people to make sound financial decisions, advance in their careers, and teach math skills to the next generation.

National Numeracy addresses these challenges through an attitudinal approach. It aims to replace negative, self-limiting beliefs with a growth mindset rooted in how everybody has the potential to improve everyday math skills. Through the National Numeracy Challenge, a website with free online resources, people take a math quiz to assess their numeracy levels and identify their strengths and weaknesses. Then, they access more than 300 educational resources to help advance their skills and increase confidence with numbers. A collection of videos highlights how others overcame their fears and anxieties around math, stirring a sense of solidarity. People are invited to engage with the resources at their own pace to ultimately achieve essential numeracy skills for daily life and the workplace.

Improving numeracy at scale with AWS

With more than 400,000 digital users to date, National Numeracy needed a scalable platform that emphasizes data security and reliability. Leveraging AWS Promotional Credit, the organization uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) to host its websites and web apps like the National Numeracy Challenge in a centralized forum, giving users a unified and seamless experience. National Numeracy also uses Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) to house its user database of 400,000 contacts and to host its reporting database. Storing user data in the cloud gives National Numeracy and hundreds of partner organizations instant access to critical data, such as metrics on platform engagement or how beneficiaries are developing math skills. The virtual database only accepts select queries from fixed and approved IP addresses, making data access more secure. “This data is what tells the story of the difference we are making in people’s lives. We see how they’re engaging and improving their confidence and skills with numbers. This allows us to make constant iterative, agile improvements to our provision,” said Maurice Tse-Leon, National Numeracy’s Digital Engagement Manager.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, National Numeracy saw an unprecedented increase in demand for its services. From January 2020 to December 2021, more than 145,000 people signed up for the National Numeracy Challenge. There was also a 15% increase from 2019 to 2020, indicating a pressing need for improving numeracy skills. AWS’s scalable servers make it possible for National Numeracy to welcome spikes in traffic without fearing that applications might crash. “Adding autoscaling to the setup allowed us to meet the real-world needs of the business, and [Amazon] Workspaces has added a huge amount of resiliency to the reporting operations. By relying on AWS Elastic Beanstalk, we’ve got a lot more of our configurations stored in code, which previously were managed on individual servers, creating a huge maintenance overload,” stated Coherence, the development agency working with National Numeracy.

Action to improve numeracy

National Numeracy measures a variety of meaningful user engagement metrics to determine actions to improve numeracy, which include using the National Numeracy Challenge, watching learning videos, attending online events or downloading educational resources. Since March 2020, more than 300,000 people have taken action to improve their numeracy and 80% of the National Numeracy Challenge’s registered participants complete a learning check.

Beneficiaries reported that their progress through the National Numeracy Challenge has had significant impact on their lives. Users reported feedback like, “I have so much more self-belief than I have had in years;” “Without number confidence, I wouldn’t have had the courage to take on a new role, and I wouldn’t be applying for the jobs that I am;” and “I feel more confident to help my children when they need support with their homework.”

Though it’s common to feel anxiety around math, it’s possible to boost confidence in everyday numeracy skills like managing finances or calculating measurements in an approachable and engaging way. Discover how the National Numeracy Challenge and how it’s helping UK adults do just that. Visit National Numeracy to learn more.

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