Functional Maths for Refugees: The Role of UDL

A woman using a claculator and computer for functional maths tasks.In a previous post, we explored the use of UDL in migrant and refugee education. The focus of this post is on functional maths for refugees and the role of UDL. Everyday maths is needed for things such as recipes and bus timetables. 

In her paper, Joana Caniglia, highlights both the necessity for and complexity of mathematics for everyday functions for refugees establishing themselves in a new country. She writes in the American context, but the maths skills noted are, of course, relevant in Australia. Some of these functions include navigating public transport timetables, buying groceries with a different monetary system, shopping for necessities, and applying for social services.

Caniglia says the complexity of the mathematics required by these activities poses a significant barrier for adult refugees with limited English and interrupted education. 

Identifying and overcoming barriers to learning lies at the heart of UDL. 

Caniglia‘s paper reports on a year-long project that sought to uncover a mathematics educator’s assumptions brought to the teaching of functional mathematics skills for small groups of refugee women. One of these assumptions is that maths is a universal language.

Although some mathematical calculations and strategies may be used universally, difficulties in academic language arises for refugee learners. Maths words and symbols have double meanings and English expressions can be confusing, just for starters.

In addition to a range of myths, Canigla also discusses a number of cultural themes that arise. One of the themes is that A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words, But An Object and Gestures Are Worth More. She discusses how the UDL tenet of multiple means of representation supported refugee women in acquiring mathematics vocabulary. Using UDL, Canigla was able to guide the women’s development of vocabulary for measurement and cooking by using pictures, utensils, recipes, bus schedules, and newspaper advertisements.

For further reading on maths for English language learners, see the following references:

The papers above were written by Judit Moschkovich, who is a founding partner of Understanding Language. This is a workgroup of the Stanford University Graduate School of Education.