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The Interplay of Identity, Culture, School and Mathematics: A Caribbean Perspective

By Patricia Parima Emelda George


This thesis looks at students' views of mathematics in the Caribbean setting of Antigua and Barbuda. The idea for studying this particular issue came about from a concern\ud within the Caribbean that students were `underachieving' in mathematics. This concern was in large part based on student performance in the Caribbean Examinations Council\ud (CXC) Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), examinations taken by students at the end of secondary school. It was thought that a study which looked at students' views of\ud mathematics would get at answers for the perceived underachievement. Implicit in this was the notion that there would be a connection between students' views of mathematics and their performance in it in these school-leaving examinations.\ud \ud Methodologically, the study employed a mixed methods approach to data collection and analysis in a case study of secondary schools in Antigua and Barbuda. The overall\ud theoretical perspective taken was socio-cultural, and drew largely on the notions of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu of habitus, cultural capital and field in his theory of the social reproductive role of schools.\ud \ud The study found that students as a group had positive views of mathematics. This finding was unexpected given the supposed 'underachievement' in the CXC/CSEC examinations. There were however statistically significant gender differences in students expressing positive views of mathematics, and the direction of this finding was\ud consistent within and across data collection methods. Especially for girls, these positive views of mathematics appeared to be tempered by a perceived need for\ud mathematics in order to gain access to desired spaces and places upon leaving school. Students' views of mathematics were less influenced by the factor of the type of school\ud they were in, which, in Caribbean settings is a proxy for social class or the socioeconomic circumstances of home backgrounds. There were though some differences between school-types in how students perceived they could be in a generalised approach to learning mathematics, and these differences appeared to `matter' in eventual CXC/CSEC outcomes. Contrastingly, there were statistically significant differences in students' mathematics outcomes in the CXC/CSEC based on school-type, but not so by\ud gender. Analyses of past CXC/CSEC mathematics outcomes based on school-type showed that an assessment of `underachievement' in mathematics was not equally\ud applicable across all school-types as students in single sex schools did appear to `achieve' as well in mathematics as they did in other subject areas, and markedly more\ud so than their colleagues in mixed schools. These findings relating to students' gender and school-type meant that there was not the anticipated connection between students'\ud views and their CXC/CSEC mathematics performance. Further, the factors of gender and school-type interplayed in complex ways on students' mathematics views and eventual performance. There is no one simple `catch-all' phrase that adequately summarises the findings on these issues for all students, as the findings are different depending on which sub-group of students is being looked at, and which mathematics issue is being assessed. The `best answer' for improving student outcomes in mathematics seems to lie in improving their social conditions, but this would leave\ud gender issues unresolved.\ud \u

Publisher: School of Education (Leeds)
Year: 2007
OAI identifier: oai:etheses.whiterose.ac.uk:671

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