Refugees and numeracy
What can we learn from international large-scale assessments, especially from TIMSS?
At least 66 million people globally are experiencing forced displacement and had to flee their homes in order to escape war, persecution, and natural disasters. Countries that have accepted larger refugee populations must address the task of enabling their participation in society. Besides other aspects, numeracy skills are important for all individuals, including refugees, in coping with mathematical demands within private and public life and participating in society as informed and reflective citizens. Research shows that little is known about refugees’ educational backgrounds, especially concerning numeracy and mathematics, despite such knowledge being of great relevance for policymakers in receiving societies. To alleviate this gap, our aim in this paper is to study the numeracy skills of refugees and to discuss how far these findings can be of help in nourishing a successful educational pathway for refugees and facilitating their participation in their receiving society. By exploring large-scale studies, in particular the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), we found that respondents in the selected Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries perform significantly below those in Italy and Sweden in the area of mathematics achievement, but those in MENA countries have more positive attitudes. However, the fact that refugees are a very heterogeneous group makes it difficult to make general statements about them based on international large-scale studies. Overall, our paper points to a considerable need for an expanded research agenda that can inform policymakers and decision makers regarding refugees and numeracy, in order to create or redesign adequate educational programs.