Author: Christian Kwami Agbodza
While investigating Education and Economics in South Africa at SOAS, University of London, Christian visited WITS as a Visiting Economics Lecturer. He later worked as JICA Health economist on INSET at Ghana Ministry of Health; on human rights in England; and as business school director in Nigeria. After a Post-Ugandan consultancy for a Ugandan school, Christian, on DfE’s advice, completed a Maths PGCE at University of Brighton, as an Institute of Mathematics Scholar. He is a teacher of mathematics at an East Sussex School, where he is also a National Education Union (NEU) Workplace Rep and District President. His professional doctorate is an investigation into the mathematical values that maths educators enact in their classroom while teaching mathematics. He has been reflecting with SCDTP’s new blog co-editor, Nasrat Sayed.
As a secondary mathematics educator in an Academy in one of the networks of South England schools, I used Braun and Clarke’s thematic analysis, to analyse interviews and transcripts in stage one of my professional doctoral studies (EDD). Thematic analysis recognises that we are all situated in a context from which we all see the world and speak (ontology), know things (epistemology) while holding values (axiology). Produced knowledge represents situated truths that provide insight into a research topic (Terry & Hayfield, 2021). I realised that my research topic, which is the epistemic values of mathematics that mathematics educators enact in their classrooms while teaching mathematics, could have very deep roots in who I am today.
I was born into a neo-colonial world, which means that the former imperialist nations and USA are directing for their own benefit, the policies of the Global South from outside the continent, rather than for the benefit of Africans like myself. I came to realise that my chosen topic reflects a deep yearning for a qualitative shift to an Africa free from such neo-colonial control and able to equally compete in the world. However, this reflexive rationale for a fairer world does not just reside in my mind but rather in neo-colonialism, which is a deeper materialist structure and the mechanism responsible for the continued oppression of Africa within the global system. This inequality has had detrimental impact on many African citizens, including me. Despite many years living in England, I am still disadvantaged compared to the privileged White class. But, I have not internalised my black marginalisation, because of growing up in a positive immediate environment of the anti-colonial struggle in Ghana. For me, being black, while I grew up, had no connotations with racism, inferiority, and a lack of opportunity. This changed when I first came to England, where, because of some racist experiences, I consciously realised for the first time that I was a black man.
Nevertheless, the African political economic reality is that I am still a neo-colonial subject, deprived of the quantity of financial and physical resources that I need for a better quality of life. My personal background was growing up in an affluent Ghanaian home, but my experiences today reflect someone without a high level of personal net-worth in life. No wonder my ideological commitment is to ideas of the unification of Africa and its decolonisation with specific reference to the African Revolution of our ancestors in their struggle for human freedom and social justice.
I came to think very deeply about whether my politics and ideology were inseparable from my research. Whatever one’s ideology and politics, the epistemic values of mathematics are neutral. What can I say about my research training and experiences so far? What can I say about being a maths scholar? How are my data collection methods affecting my collected data? I wanted to interrogate both truth and meaning concurrently using mixed methods: survey and interview. The work of Brown (2010) on mathematical truth and its renewal, affected me very deeply.
Given my material conditions, educational experiences, and pan-African consciousness under neo-colonialism, I find myself among educated Africans, who search for knowledge as an instrument for national emancipation and integrity (Nkrumah, 1964, p. 4). It is this search that has finally led me, on reflection, to the investigation of values and mathematics education. I feel that ‘values’ are the driving material forces of social change. They have created a world in which I have been unable to experience life and human happiness. Values are at the heart of all the choices that have deprived me of the resources I need for a better quality of life and human happiness.
Values and mathematics are one way to explain and change the world. I hold an epistemic view of reality that has concurrent characteristics that are objective, subjective and both (Barzilai & Weinstock, 2015). To change the world for the better, the mathematics research community working alongside teachers of mathematics have a responsibility to transform pupil outcomes and address the attainment gap in mathematics. They must provide teachers of mathematics with a conative-based continuous professional development (CPD). Providing such a CPD, according to Seah (2019) is the missing piece in the mathematics attainment gap puzzle. Nevertheless, the current pervasive cognitive-based CPD holds a hegemonic status (Tikly, 2015). So, a conative-based CPD can either oppose its hegemony or complement it. So, I found myself looking deeply into the nature of values in mathematics education as if I was searching for the roots of a tree.
According to Bishop (1991), there are three components of mathematical values. First, there are mathematical values, which have grown alongside the development of mathematics in “Westernized cultures”. Second, there are general educational values associated with either a societal or an educational institution’s cultural norms. Thirdly, there are other values embedded in curriculum, textbooks, teachers’ practices etc which constitute mathematics educational values. Mathematical values are the foundation of the subfield of values and mathematics education. I have renamed mathematical values to epistemic values of mathematics (EVM) to distinguish it from the other two (see also Bishop, 2008).
I think mathematics education is central to building a better world. I aim to contribute to values-based mathematics and CPD for mathematics educators. I also plan to find my academic voice to promote the cultural values that drive us towards the building of a fairer world in which humans in general and Africans in particular, can thrive. I think this is the heart of the unfinished African Revolution, which commenced with the Pan African Conference of 1900.
Barzilai, S., & Weinstock, M. (2015). Measuring epistemic thinking within and across topics: A scenario-based approach. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 42, 141-158.
Bishop, A. (1991). Mathematical enculturation: A cultural perspective on mathematics education (Vol. 6). Springer Science & Business Media.
Bishop, A. J. (2008). Teachers’ mathematical values for developing mathematical thinking in classrooms: Theory, research, and policy. The Mathematics Educator, 11(1/2), 79-88.
Brown, T. (2010). Truth and the renewal of knowledge: The case of mathematics education. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 75(3), 329-343.
Nkrumah, K. (1964). Consciencism. NYU Press.
Seah, W. T. (2019). Values in mathematics education: Its conative nature, and how it can be developed. Research in Mathematical Education, 22(2), 99-121.
Terry, G., & Hayfield, N. (2021). Essentials of thematic analysis. American Psychological Association.
Tikly, L. (2015). What works, for whom, and in what circumstances? Towards a critical realist understanding of learning in international and comparative education. International Journal of Educational Development, 40, 237-249.