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Revealing the values in mathematics education through a variety of cultural lenses

Mathematics educators, mathematicians, teachers, and students come together to discuss the values that are espoused and developed through mathematics education today in different cultures

Cactus Communications

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IMAGE: The mathematics education can often be associated with only numeracy skills. But viewing the discipline as a cultural product--whose values differ across cultures--reveals its significance beyond numbers crunching. view more 

Credit: ECNU Review of Education

If you ask an adult what their least favorite subject at school was, they are likely to say mathematics. This response has less to do with mathematics per se than it is about how well it was taught or whether students were supported in their endeavor to learn numbers, master algebra, understand trigonometry, and handle data. To grasp the values of mathematics and how the discipline is viewed by society, we need to see it as a cultural phenomenon first.

It is commonly known that mathematics is the foundation of technology, be it primitive tools or the supercomputers in the 21st century. In turn, this technology shapes our modes of social connection. Thus, learning mathematics is inseparable from the connection with the external environment, and teaching mathematics is also inseparable from the interaction between people. Seen this way, it is hard not to categorize mathematics as a cultural product. Philosophers, educators, and mathematicians who have written about the discipline's cultural contours have noted how intrinsically enmeshed it is with other fields such as anthropology, sociology, education, philosophy, and psychology.

"While people may readily understand the significance of anthropology to our lives and histories, it is often felt that the objective and the scientific nature of mathematics masks its value relevance," says Dr. Qiaoping Zhang from the Education University of Hong Kong. "Because research on values in mathematics education is limited and considered unimportant."

To correct this notion and explore the values that are considered important in teaching and learning mathematics according to various cultures, ECNU Review of Education is putting out a Special Issue this month with Dr. Qiaoping Zhang and Dr. Wee Tiong Seah as its guest editors. Teachers and students in Australia, Pasifika learners in New Zealand, and primary and secondary students in Korea and the Chinese mainland are just some of the participants who will be sharing their stories and ideas about the values they hold dear in mathematics education. This special issue of the journal is being launched as a tribute to the 14th International Congress on Mathematical Education, which is being held from July 14 to 18 in Shanghai, China.

Among the plethora of articles and commentaries in the Special Issue, some of the highlights include:

  • Wee Tiong Seah (University of Melbourne), Qiaoping Zhang, and Alan J. Bishop (Monash University) discussing the role that individuals such as teachers and parents play in affecting the development of students' values in mathematics education through their views, decisions, and behavior, and emphasizing the importance of bringing humanity back into mathematics education;

  • Yüksel Dede (Gazi University), Veysel Akçakın (Uşak University), and Gürcan Kaya (Burdur Mehmet Akif Ersoy University) exploring the intersection of mathematical values, educational values, and the educational values involved in mathematical modeling tasks in Brazil, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America;

  • Jodie Hunter from Massey University examining the understanding of mathematics educational values and the reasons for rating values at different levels of importance, according to Pasifika students in New Zealand; and

  • Hengjun Tang (Zhejiang Normal University), Wee Tiong Seah, Qiaoping Zhang and Weizhong Zhang (Zhejiang Normal University) using the 'What I Find Important' [WIFI] questionnaire to investigate Chinese mainland students' value structures in mathematics learning across primary, junior secondary, and senior secondary levels.

It must be noted that the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has given greater weight to these discussions. "Prior to the scramble of teachers and students joining online lectures and tutorials last year, it was felt that information and communication technology would have a fundamental influence on mathematics education and could reduce the differences between cultural traditions", Dr. Seah says. "However, after a year of learning online, might digital learning technology have widened the learning opportunity gaps within and amongst cultural traditions instead?"

Examining whether and how teachers and students have changed their values in mathematics learning as a result of online teaching, and how these values are maintained and sustained alongside the wellbeing of everybody involved, remain as the open-ended questions whose answers are of critical importance as we move forward in a world which is (still) suffering from a pandemic.

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Reference

Authors: Qiaoping Zhang, Wee Tiong Seah

Title of original paper: Thematic Issue on Values and Valuing in Mathematics Education: Revisiting Mathematics Education from Cultural Perspectives

Journal: ECNU Review of Education

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/20965311211011628

Affiliations: The Education University of Hong Kong, The University of Melbourne

About ECNU Review of Education

The ECNU Review of Education (ROE) is an international peer review and platinum open access scholarly journal initiated by the East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai, China. It is a peer-reviewed journal that aims to publish impactful research and innovative articles related to current educational issues in China and abroad. The journal encourages articles that use interdisciplinary perspectives and embrace contextual sensitivity. It seeks to build a global community of scholars interested in advancing knowledge, generating big ideas, inducing deep changes, and bringing about a real impact in education.

About Dr. Qiaoping Zhang

Dr. Qiaoping Zhang is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Mathematics and Information Technology at the Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK). Prior to joining EdUHK he worked in Hubei University, East China Normal University, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He received his PhD from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2010. His research interests are mainly on affects in mathematics education, mathematics teacher education, students' mathematical problem solving, and cross-cultural comparison in mathematics education.

About Dr. Wee Tiong Seah

Dr. Wee Tiong Seah is Professor in Mathematics Education at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at The University of Melbourne, Australia. He is best known for utilizing conative and motivational variables such as values to support research and development projects in mathematics education, which often focus on cognitive and affective variables only. One of the applications of this field of knowledge and expertise is in the fostering of positive or enabling mathematical wellbeing, which address issues such as mathematics anxiety and disengagement.

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