International Panel on Policy and Practice
in Mathematics Education: 2001 Report
Issue 7: Math Education as a Profession
What is the role of mathematics education as a profession and of mathematics education research in your country?
Brazil: Romulo Lins and Carlos Alberto Francisco
I will talk about my job to show the role of mathematics education as a profession. I was chosen by the school according to my classification on the tests - a math test and a pedagogical test. I worked in two schools because there was a decrease in my school, and it is hard to take part in the development of pedagogical projects in two places. Every year the team of teachers changes. All teachers take part in two or three meetings a week to discuss the educational situation of the school. Many teachers think it is boring because they fill out forms that do not work to reform the school. Teachers do not like to talk about their problems with other teachers. Salary is a problem. A teacher who has 25 lessons a week earns about $320 per month. A professor can earn up to four times more because their job is more valued. To earn more money, teachers have to take more classes, which is bad for work quality. Teachers can have up to 32 classes a week. In a high school course, teachers have three to four math lessons per week per group, and four to five per week in an elementary school. Groups have about 36 students, and teachers teach about 10 groups.
Most teachers use textbooks for their math content. These influence the practice of teachers. Mathematics education has been changed in relation to its use and function. The main objective is to use math as an instrument to interpret reality in a critical way; reality education through math. Today education policy pressures teachers to work on interdisciplinary projects. Teachers do not, however, always know the mathematics needed for this new proposal. Teachers don't want this kind of change. They need autonomy, good background, salaries, and engagement with teaching.
External evaluation tests are used to track student performance, but social problems have not been taken into consideration by these tests (drugs, families, etc.). Math teachers cannot teach math content because of these problems. Thinking about mathematics education and testing raises some basic questions: How must external testing happen, taking several social problems into consideration inside the schools? What must be the characteristics of these evaluations to motivate these new pedagogical practices? What will happen if we don't adapt to this situation?
For me, educational policy minimizes social exclusion - a school is considered an excellent school if it has small rates of failure and school evasion. It does not guarantee the quality; student presence is not enough to make a student take part in society. Parents should take part in school life to improve the school.
The academics have done very little to help teachers change the situation described by Carlos. Despite the fact that we are a big system, there is still small professional association. These associations should be able to effect education at the local level through the ministry or states. Brazil has 40 million students, 300,000 math teachers, and 1.4 million teachers. The critical question is how to reach all of these. The Brazilian Mathematics Society has eleven thousand members; around two thousand are university members. There are five journals reporting research, five hundred copies every six months. The biggest impact of the society is having meetings - conferences, research seminars, meetings with courses for teachers.
Educators keep in touch with research by reading the papers directly or going to conferences. Most people working on policies - guidelines, textbooks, etc. - have an interest in research but are not researchers. They are academics serving as consultants, invited to do a task by the education group inside the ministry. "Didactical transposition" ideas come from somewhere and filter through the system: problem solving, working with patterns, investigations. Only two of 30 textbooks are clearly research informed. Publishers will not publish a book that pushes too far.
The most important part of research is building a body of socially and culturally contextualized knowledge. Francisco would like to see more research that acts together with the teacher. Main areas of research seem to be teacher education, ethno-mathematics, algebraic education, technologies, and mathematics education. There are only two pure post-graduate programs in mathematics education in Brazil. The other programs are part of education departments.
Until recently, mathematics education research existed inside the mathematics community. It was problematic to use money for mathematics to fund research in mathematics education. Now it is possible to create a separate committee on mathematics and science education. The opposition was very noisy, but a new program is being shaped that is separate from both mathematics and education. In the past, committees for book assessment, guidelines for teacher education, and so on were dominated by mathematicians. A critical question is who should appoint these committees? Ph.D. researchers come from several communities. Some are teachers, and this number is increasing because the government is putting pressure on teachers to get post-graduate education. Many are already professors who come to improve their professional performance. Increasingly, people graduate and go straight to post-graduate studies. While teachers are undergrads, they participate in projects so that when they leave, they have an impression of the profession. Too often, they take courses without knowing why and for what purpose: There is a need to have a good association for the profession of math education, including teaching. One must have a system of scholarships that is efficient.
The Brazil Society of Mathematics Education is growing rapidly and has a series of books in five volumes; each sold an average of 3000 to 4000 books. Society authorities are increasingly recognizing and talking to the community, not on a one-to-one basis but as a community. As a result, they have access to committees as a representative of the community, which is a big change. What is necessary is much more public visibility including talking about research. The media says what math education should be and what is wrong and what is right with it, and there is no one who can speak out against this. There is a strong need for more development, along with research. Brazil is totally isolated from the rest of the world, and publishing material for the classroom is difficult in terms of the culture.
Participants identified the similarities and differences represented in Table 9.
Table 9 Brazil: Similarities and Differences Among the Participating Countries Related to Mathematics Education as a Profession
Themes That Arose from the Discussion
It is difficult for teachers to focus on improving mathematics education when they are faced with enormous social problems in schools and don't have adequate support for addressing them. Across the countries, this was an issue. Teachers' views toward, and involvement in, mathematics education reforms, however, vary greatly within and between the countries. Teachers can profit from collaborating with colleagues on matters of mathematics teaching, but this doesn't happen uniformly. Cooperation between and among mathematicians, teachers, and mathematics education researchers is rare and not part of most of the cultures represented.
"...academics help classroom teacher very little." (Agarkar)
"Teachers need to talk with parents, but they may have problems also. Teachers need other professionals and to talk about the problems inside the school. They have to talk with everybody to get a solution." (Francisco)
"Most mathematicians don't care about math ed and research in math ed." (Bodin)
Theme 2: The development of mathematics education research as a field
Mathematics education research takes place in government-funded institutes, universities, and "virtual" graduate schools. Wide disparities in the "maturity" of mathematics education research as a field were evident across the countries as well as the nature of the work (from highly theoretical, to very practical, to socially and culturally contextualized). Funding to build and support research communities was a common concern. Proximity to mathematicians and to mathematics can be both beneficial and problematic for mathematics education research. In some cases, differences of opinion emerged about the views held by mathematicians about mathematics education work.
"Research aims should be 'increasing our understanding of the studied phenomena with the purpose of changing them.' The phenomena subjected to study should be connected with their wholes, we should not depend alone on 'experimental research and linear relations' (e.g. correlation, regression, multi-regression...), and we should pay more attention to empirical work, case studies, and prospective analyses. Further, research findings must be regarded as means to initiate discussions about these phenomena (not to be considered as the endpoint.)" (Mina)
"The main thing is that no one in France thinks secondary teachers should do research." (Sackur)
Theme 3: The relationship between mathematics education research and practice.
The influence of research on textbooks, on development of syllabi, on teacher education practice, and on classroom instruction seems to be minimal, though there are a few notable examples. There is a sense that teachers could benefit from research, but in general they are remote from being involved in it. The relationship between research and various forms of practice should go in two directions; research should influence practice, but also, the questions and problems of practice should drive research. It seemed that in many cases, researchers are not always responsive to the concerns of practice.
"There is a tension between what policy makers do and who they listen to." (Eshiwani)
"There are no quick solutions from research." (Bodin)
Key questions about the role of mathematics education as a profession and of mathematics education research included those related to:
Structure and policy
Connections between research and practice
Connections among research community and other mathematics education communities
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