Cultural influences on primary school students’ mathematical conceptions in Ghana

2017-05-26T07:35:05Z (GMT) by Davis, Ernest Kofi
Students’ performances in mathematics in Ghana have not been as good as they should be (Ministry of Education Science and Sports, 2007; Ministry of Education Youth and Sports, 2004a). Concepts such as fractions and measurement have often been cited as being problematic to students but these are the very concepts which students have much prior knowledge of, through their engagement in out-of-school/everyday mathematical practices in Ghanaian society. In other contexts researchers have highlighted the role that culture plays in mathematics teaching and learning (Bishop, 1991; Seah, 2004). This study therefore sought to investigate cultural influences on primary school students’ mathematical conceptions and practices in Ghana, as they move between contexts of out-of-school mathematical practices (OOSM) in the home and in-school mathematical practices (ISM) in the school. Three theoretical lenses were drawn to illuminate the problem. These included the cultural nature of mathematical knowledge by Bishop (1988), sociocultural theories on learning by Vygotsky (1978) and students’ transitions between contexts of mathematical practices by Abreu, Bishop and Presmeg (2002). Two main research issues and seven research questions were posed to guide the study. The main research issues were: 1) What are the sociocultural influences on Ghanaian students’ mathematics learning? 2) What are Ghanaian students’ transition experiences between the home and school contexts and how do these affect their learning in school? Questionnaires were administered and responded to by 137 primary school teachers and 24 of their headteachers, from 25 (out of all 74) primary schools, selected through stratified random sampling in the Cape Coast Metropolitan area in Ghana. The selection was followed by interviews with 32 primary school students (four each from grade 4 and grade 6), their teachers and headteachers from four (out the 25) schools. Documentary evidence of how teachers handled culture differences was also collected. The data gathered from the closed ended items in the questionnaire survey were analysed quantitatively through the use of frequency counts and descriptive statistics (means) whilst the open ended items were analysed qualitatively, as were the focus group interviews as well as interviews with teachers and headteachers. The study revealed that exposure to school mathematical culture influences the use of OOSM in ISM in some cases; students’ perceptions about mathematics reflected those of the headteachers and teachers; students identified with school mathematical culture (ISM) despite their recognition of OOSM also as a form of mathematics; evidence of cultural influences was observed especially in students’ conceptions and practices in identification of arithmetic fractions and division (as in sharing) in real life problems; students mistakes appeared to largely depend on out-of-school logic; generally practical activities evoked out-of-school thinking whilst paper and pencil activities evoked in-school thinking; teachers generally ignored cultural differences and rather concentrated on teaching school mathematics. The study recommends the need for teachers to see beyond students’ mistakes, as their mistakes could be based on a different logic system. In order to make mathematics more realistic to students, a three-tier teaching strategy is proposed to gradually expand students’ mathematics schema to include ISM.