Promoting statistical literacy around the world: An interview with ISLP Director Reija Helenius

The International Statistical Literacy Project (ISLP) is a project initiated by the International Association for Statistical Education (IASE), which is the education section of the International Statistical Institute (ISI).

The main objective of the ISLP is to contribute to promoting statistical literacy across the world, among young and adults, in all walks of life. To this end, we provide an online repository of international resources and news in Statistical Literacy, international activities to promote the resources and the individuals and institutions behind them, and outreach activities to increase awareness.

Statistics Views talks to the Director, Reija Helenius about the history of the Project, its current progress and future plans.


1. Please could you let us know how the International Statistical Literary Project came about?

ISLP operates in association with the International Association for Statistics Education (IASE), and the International Statistical Institute (ISI). The mission of the International Statistical Literacy Project (ISLP) is to support, create and participate in statistical literacy activities and promotion around the world.

The key activity is cooperation with the national statistical offices, statistical societies, universities and training institutes. ISLP came about after the 1994 World Numeracy Program Advisory Committee (ISI) and then the 2000 International Statistical Literacy Project (IASE) in an effort to promote statistical literacy across the world, among young people and adults, in all walks of life.

2. What are your thoughts on what the Project has achieved so far in meeting this objective?

The ISLP project has been able to create a network of collaboration, which enables the activities of the project in different continents and countries. Even though the activities vary between countries, the central point of all the action is to work toward increasing the knowledge about statistics and how to use them in everyday life. The next step is to work on the practical operations, like for example sharing the good praxis. A great example of this is the International Statistical Literacy Competition, which works as a way of promoting statistical thinking, research and presenting style to the students.

The project also presents every other year an Best Cooperative Award, which rewards projects that enhance the use of statistics in cooperation with other auteurs. The ISLP project also publishes the ISLP newsletter twice a year and has its own website.

3. Can you please tell us how the team works e.g. how many, what are the different roles involved, etc.?

We have worldwide activities. We operate in over 100 countries. The ISLP would not be possible without the effort of volunteers throughout the past years. Our council of country coordinators consist of over 120 volunteers

The Project is lead by the ISLP Executive team (ISLP Director plus two Deputy Directors).

• 2014-2017: Head of Development Reija Helenius (ISLP Director), Finland, Prof. Pedro Campos (Portugal) (Depute ISLP Director) and Assistant Director General Steve MacFeely (Depute ISLP Director),Ireland.

• Executive team and the project have an advisory board which is chaired by the president of the IASE (International Association of Statistical Education), professor Iddo Gal (Israel).

In addition to this participating countries have different kind of national cooperation groups.

4. What kind of feedback have you had so far?

The project has received very good feedback from different statistics branch organizations and drawn attention all over the world. There has been a clear need for discussion about the meaning and significance of statistical skills. The country coordinators have brought up that teachers especially need to feel that the cooperation is very useful and needed.

5. Do you think governments and learned societies can do more to raise awareness of statistics and stop people being afraid of numbers?

The teaching of statistics has not been able to have a stabilized status in the syllabus for every country, for example in upper schools prior to university. That is why the learning institutions, media and libraries have a clear significance as partners in helping the progress of the use of statistics. The skill to use numbers is a basic competence in operating in the society. It is also important to notice, that the infrastructure of every society depends on the skills and abilities of their citizens. In addition the media has a central role and influence as mediator of rightful knowledge and relevant societal matters, by also using statistics.

6. How can we get young people interested in statistics?

A lot of countries have developed different websites, programmes, missions, games and so forth to increase the statistic skills of young people. I can mention one example, the CensusAtSchool project. It is crucially important to connect the statistics to everyday life and ordinary life phenomenons. This means also to get the general public interested in statistics.

7. What have been the highpoints of the Project so far? Have there be any low points?

The amount of interest has been more than we expected. An example of this is the numerous country coordinators and the participating countries and students. It is very important to obtain more funding and sponsors for our project because otherwise it is very hard to develop the project to the next level.

8. What are your plans beyond 2014?

Our future plans are to develop the models of increasing the knowledge and skills about statistics in all areas of life from the citizens to the decision makers.

10. How are you measuring success so far? Are you able to measure your influence at all?

The success can be measured for example by examining the turnout to the statistics competitions, the activity of the country coordinators and the geographical coverage and the actualized schemes.


Copyright: Image appears courtesy of ISLP