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. Think public transport timetables, buying groceries with a different monetary system, and applying for social services.

These activities require mathematics and pose significant barriers. This is especially the case 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 teaching maths skills for small groups of refugee women. The project uncovered assumptions a maths education brings to teaching. One of these assumptions is that maths is a universal language.

Some mathematical calculations and strategies may be used universally. But difficulties in academic language arise for refugee learners. Maths words and symbols have double meanings, and English expressions can be confusing.

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.

Further reading

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.

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

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