Mathematics & Education

On the one hand mathematics assumes a dominant role within educational curricula precisely because it is what is needed in order to engage with scientific, technological and economic processes and activities (It is why wars have led to reforms in mathematics education!). It is guaranteed a place at the university and compulsory at school. It therefore also serves as a sort of gatekeeper, helping to shape a notion of merit (in a caste-society this implies a reproduction of exitising heirarchies and inequalities). It determines, in many ways, who takes part in the development of the nation and industry and to what extent. On the other hand, it is also within the community of mathematics education that the concerns of the mathematics-society relationship find a voice. (The mathematical community within the academy may well take up state and industry funded studies to assess the impacts of certain economic policies, but it has never still felt the need to assess its own role in society and its responsibility to people, its public).

It is for these reasons that education becomes a nucleus of contestation for the role of mathematics in our world.

But as it is, such concerns have been little explored in the context of India. Across the international community, mathematics education has been recognised as critical to society and work has been done in the area to deconstruct the relationship between knowledge and power, broaden the notion of a site of mathematics education beyond schools and universities to sites of practice, ask questions of the politics of the curriculum, empowerment and suppression, and look at how mathematics (and mathematics education) can exclude. There is a deep commitment to developing a theoretical framework to understand these issues, and that effort cannot be undermined. It is a dialogue that will help guide and shape our understanding, and therefore perhaps, our actions. But what we also need (and feel a strong lack of) is a commitment to practice. Mathematics education maybe a discipline, but it is also a set of practices in a variety of contexts. Can we then, develop a language, from experiences of learning and oppression, that at once offers a framework to unpack notions of power and reveal how exploitation functions, but also offers an alternative to challenge the gate-keeping role of mathematics in education?