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Topic: Discussion Paper/WGA 12 -- Part I
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 15,675
Registered: 12/3/04
Discussion Paper/WGA 12 -- Part I
Posted: Dec 21, 1999 10:43 AM
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att1.dat (16.7 K)

Sent at the request of Professors Keitel (Germany) and Kninjik (Brazil)
(Part II will follow shortly)
ICME-9 IN JAPAN 2000 -- see

Working Group in Action (WGA 12):
"Social and political aspects of mathematics education"

Chief Organisers of WGA 12:
Christine Keitel (Germany) and Gelsa Kninjik ( Brazil)

Associate Organisers of WGA 12:
Marilyn Frankenstein (USA), Hanako Senuma (Japan), Renuka Vithal (RSA)
(in cooperation with Alan Bishop (AUS) and Leone Burton (UK))


(Questions and issues proposed to be dealt with in the contributions and
discussed in the Working Group in Action)

Today, it is generally acknowledged that mathematics education has a strong
social and political dimension. It is not only the reality of classroom
practice which has to respect political goals and cope with different
social settings, but mathematics education research and development are
also influenced by social aspects and political decisions. However, in
1988, it was a novel idea that an ICME congress should devote a whole day
to a special program addressing social and political issues in the context
of mathematics education. The large number of contributors for this day -
90 from over 40 countries spread all over the world - indicated an
increasing awareness of the relations between education in general as an
universal human right and mathematics eduction in particular. The title of
the Fifth Day Special Program at ICME VI , "Mathematics education and
society", represented an intent to investigate the interrrelationship
between mathematics education, eduational policies and social /cultural
conditions in a broad sense. It was accepted for the first time as a
legitimate challenge, a matter of worldwide consciousness and recognition.
One important focus was on analysing conditions and causes for the
restricted teaching and learning opportunities for pupils of certain
minority groups defined by gender, class, and ethnicity in industrialized
countries, as well as the majority of the young people growing up in the
non-industrialized "Third World". The community of mathematics educators
agreed to search for the means to overcome eurocentrism and cultural
oppression in mathematical teaching and learning, and in the design of
curricula, learning materials and learning evnvironments, to adopt critical
and multicultural perspectives which will allow meaningful mathematics
learning to be related to social experiences and social needs.

The outcome of this 5th day special program was more an agenda for future
activities than a balanced account of achievements and limitations of
mathematics education under present social and political conditions.
However, the message could be disseminated and partly implemented as a
necessary complement of future activities within ICME and other conferences
of mathematics educators, and later meetings and publications followed up
what had been started there: in 1990, the first conference on "Political
dimensions of mathematics education" was organised in London and followed
by others in Southafrica 1993 and Norway 1995, and by the international
conference on "Mathematics Education and Society" at the University of
Nottingham in 1998. In addition, special components of social and political
issues had been explicitly dealt with in working groups and topic groups of
ICME VII in Quebec 1992 and ICME VIII in Sevilla 1996, and also in the
plenary and regular lectures of ICME a great number of the selected
speakers addressed social and political issues.

The Working Group in Action 12 "Social and political aspects of mathematics
education" at ICME IX in Japan aims to continue this development. We want
explicitly to address and analyse new (and old) policies concerning
mathematics education in various parts of our world. What are the policies
which care for providing the essential and appropriate teaching and
learning opportunities which ensure access to all levels of
institutionalised schooling in the elementary, secondary and tertiary
sector of education as well as non-academic adult education; which search
for appropriate social measures and conditions for creating and carefully
establishing practices guided by principles of social justice and equity.
We do hope to come out with an interesting discussion which would stimulate
us not only individually, but also might create some teams who decide to
work together for the next ICME X and plan to present some joint projects
that they had done in the meantime!

In what follows we try to raise some questions and ideas for subthemes
which might guide (y)our design of papers to be presented and discussions
to be set up during the sessions. We would like to ask everybody to address
which subtheme or questions s/he wants to pursue and how the submitted
paper and work within the Working Group in Action would contribute to an
overall group goal to be decided at the sessions. Please feel free but
challenged by our proposals and ideas!


(1) Challenges and perils of internationalisation and globalisation:

- how can communities with different political systems and social
conditions search for productive ways to learn from each other? how to
decrease the dominance of Western culture on the development of mathematics
education in a world-wide context? - what happens to cultural and social
diversity by globalisation? - does internationalisation of mathematics
education and globalisation equally respect the equity and autonomy of the
partners in exchange and cooperation? what is the impact of competition
among and within mathematics education institutions? - international
comparisons of mathematics education: the winning and losing in rankings,
for what and whose interests? - do international comparisons help or hinder
improvement or development of effective teaching-learning methods in
specific social and political settings? - search for comparability of
institutions, qualifications and degrees: what does it mean to ask for
common outcomes in mathematics learning? - what is the role and influence
of international organisations like ICME, IOWME, PME; CIEAEM, ICTMA,
Ethnomathematics, Criticalmathematics and others: whose ends do they serve
and who does decide about? can these ends be changed? should there be more
regional groupings? would that make the political situations for
marginalised people better or worse?

(2) The promises and pitfalls of information technology: socio-political
realities and fictions

- politics behind the dissemination of new technologies: economic or social
interests? - how do new technologies actually support the managing of
information and communication by students, the creating and using distance
education and virtual school and universitites, new differentiation of
content and organisation, change the role and interplay of students,
teachers and multi-media means by wide-spread use of technology? - how do
technologies enrich cooperation and communication across societies and
cultures, respecting the frame of equity and equality, even when
restricting communication to one single language? - how can the development
and spread of new information technologies really give better access to
mathematical knowledge for all? - how can technology really empower people
to cope with problems of knowledge production, distribution, and
appropriate use? - if the level of understanding of the social implications
of the work of mathematicians and scientists has deteriorated as they
become only elements in a segmented hierarchical system-like bureaucracy,
how can lack of control be overcome? - how could mathematics education help
to recognize and counteract the fact that there are today unprecedented
risks of technological applications in the civil and military field on the
bases of models and simulations void of theoretical comprehension and
insensitive to the limits of validity of existing empirical knowledge? - if
we have to acknowledge that technology brought into the Third World mostly
disempowers people and continues their exploitation, what can be done by
mathematics education? what does it mean to educate for knowing "what to
do" instead of "how to do it" in mathematics? how could mathematics
education emphasise the development of more judgement and wisdom than of
particular skills?

(3) Contradictory demands and measures for new qualities of mathematics
teaching, learning, and mathematics education research

- how to deal with the political measures of setting common standards,
either by tests, world examinations or by benchmarking? do we really need
"world-standards" and what is the benefit and for whom?- who will be the
winner and losers if performance-based criteria and methods for
distribution of resources for teaching and research including new
(academic) division of labour, development of involvement and corporate
identity are generally applied? - to create and apply new methods for
organisation and assessment of teaching and learning like modularisation,
diversity of access and multiple exit points, does this already generate
new values of teaching and improved attitudes towards teaching and
learning?- do we have evidence that standards improve the learning of
mathematics and what is their impact on social and cultural conditions of
learning? Which and what kind of mathematics is referred to in those
standards? How do standards match the social images of mathematics, and the
social expectations and values of the use(rs) of mathematics?


(1) Social and political views about mathematics education

- how to create marketing strategies for mathematics education (students,
teachers, employers, sponsors) successfully, how to improve allocation of
funds, public resources and private sponsoring? - in mathematics education
there are ideological notions like those of "mathematical ability",
"individual differences" and the "gifted pupil"; most often these are
collective constructions, based on racist, sexist and classist convictions,
but can those constructions be used sensibly and for what purposes? - the
perception of excellence or high achievement in mathematics, is it
different in different cultures, societies and communities, perhaps
depending on class, gender and ethnicity? does it include a social
awareness and political responsibility? what are different strategies to
counteract conflicts, lack of justice and equal treatment in teaching and
learning mathematics in the classroom? what are the influences of changing
social environments on the attitudes towards mathematics, and on the
performance expectations of teachers and parents? - there are different
ways to create social carriers and barriers in mathematics education:
changing interests for turning of the examination screw? - what is the
influence of the different roles of teachers and the differences in their
social recognition on their perception of teaching?- how to introduce
continuous evaluation of teaching and learning outcomes, experiences, and
attitudes by developing new methods for assessment of quality including
self-evaluation, peer reviews and external quality control and autonomy,
self-regulation and organisational learning against political interference?

(2) Poverty, violence and disruption and mathematics education

- does poverty signify the same in different countries and is it caught by
'working class'-problems? - how do we think about the teaching and learning
of mathematics within deeply rural and poverty striken contexts like those
which dominate in Africa and some parts of Asia?
- violence and mathematics education: Given the vast number of communities
entering into, being engaged in, or recovering from different degrees and
forms of violence, can mathematics education contribute or say anything to
these problems? The range of these aspect reaches from the impact of wars
to the levels of violence girls experience within schools and mathematics
classrooms and rituals and problems of corporal punishment which in some
countries still is widespread, especially among mathematics teachers when
children fail to learn: how do researchers refer to these aspects and how
is general practice in mathematics education is influenced by this?- the
notion of violence is also tied to the aspect of disruption and its impact
mathematics education, as in situations of violence and/or poverty
continuity cannot be assumed: how do we respect these problems when
developing theories about mathematics education?- how to develop deeper
theoretical understanding in these aspects (poverty, violence,
disruption/discontinuity) so that practice can be informed, assisted and
changed?- how do we deal with these four aspects in theory, policy,
practice and research, in particular: how to develop the means for
researching the many ideas in the themes in ways that help us to connect
them to each other in more coherent and explicit ways?


(1) Changing social and political demands for mathematics education:
Political goals for social justice and equity in mathematics education

who benefits from and whose interests are served by mathematics education?
who defines the social demands of the economy and on which basis of
information and analysis? which are the changing needs of the labour market
in terms of qualifications in mathematics? what can we report about the
regional/global economic impact of mathematics education? - how to overcome
the discrepancies between economic demands and social or pedagogical needs:
should mathematics education be considered as part of general education or
as a professional/ vocational (further) education for the few? - what is
the relationship between social needs relative to a society as a collective
body and individual interests in changing social settings for education? -
who defines qualifications provided by mathematics education? If we
recognize the fact that mathematics, by its social use and technological
development, has become more implicit and invisible although more
widespread as social and material technology, is this reflected in explicit
mathematics teaching? - do we want a core curriculum across societies and
cultures and who decides, academics or users of mathematics or others? -
how to design mathematics education as continuing education which offers
necessary responses to global, regional and local social needs?- how to
realise politics for social justice in relation to gender, class,
ethnicity? how can teachers on all levels of the educational system
minimize disadvantages arising from gender, class, ethnicity, and increase
opportunities to learn?

(2) Mathematics education and democracy:

- how to regain social recognition of mathematics education as a social
task and a public service? - how to develop public involvement and
participation for mathematics education? - in many countries, non-formal
and non-academic adult education is a strong force for democratisation and
change, how to support those activities? - the politics of national and
international financial support for research in mathematics education: who
defines criteria for quality, importance and relevance of research, who
declares what is seen as mainstream research, innovative or marginal
research? - addressing the silence: what about the opportunities to publish
and publizise own ideas? - how could mathematics education promote
accountability and give full scope to democratic imagination to establish
new forms of social contracts, communications, and discourse? - how to
control decisions based on mathematical modelling? how competently to
understand, judge, and actively counteract the replacement of democratic
political decisions by mathematico-technological expertocracy? - how to
empower people to think critically and in critical attitudes? - how to
gain systemic change which is not restricted to just formalised structural
change, but occurs on the level of meaning and culture, of social justice
commitments? Are some agents for change such as parents, peer groups,
employers or other more influential? should that influence be
counter-balanced? Are there particular problems experienced by poor and
non-industrialised countries?- how to build up democratic competencies, but
avoiding cultural imperialism?

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618) 453-4244
Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office)
(618) 457-8903 (home)


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