Sociocultural aspects of mathematics education and curricula review

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The process of developing mathematics curricula in developing countries is the research focus of Satoshi Kusaka, a lecturer from the Naruto University of Education, Japan. Using Mozambique as a case study, he examines how the endogenous development of the mathematics curriculum has progressed. Employing educational borrowing theory, he identifies the elements that can enable this endogenous development. Kusaka advocates promoting the accumulation of experience and deepening teachers’ specialisation to enable the advancement of a curriculum that is truly rooted in the country of Mozambique.

In many African countries the mathematics curricula are based on those of the former colonising country. These prototypes introduced by colonial powers have not functioned well. For more than half a century, it has become apparent that a mathematics curriculum that does not take the sociocultural perspective of the country into account will not work. More recently, researchers have carried out large-scale international academic surveys in various countries to inform curricula revision.

The process of developing mathematics curricula in developing countries is the focus of research being carried out by Satoshi Kusaka, a lecturer on the Global Education course at the Graduate School of Education, Naruto University of Education, Japan. Kusaka specialises in mathematics education and is particularly interested in its sociocultural aspects and the endogenous development of mathematics curricula. He explains how the quality of education in a country cannot be improved without the endogenous development of the curriculum, meaning that it is formulated and allowed to grow and progress within the society in which it is to be taught. Kusaka has selected Mozambique as a case study to investigate how the endogenous development of the mathematics curriculum has progressed. Using ‘educational borrowing’ theory, he identifies the elements that are essential for this endogenous development.

Educational borrowing

The ease of communication, travel, and access to information from other countries facilitates the exchange of ideas, together with the emulation of better practices and policies as seen in other places. This emulation is recognised as educational borrowing. Educational borrowing is a four-stage process. The first step involves the identification of successful practices. The second step involves deciding how to borrow these educational elements. The third step involves implementation and adapting the practice so that it can be introduced into the home context. The fourth step is internalisation and concerns the assimilation and institutionalisation of the transferred educational policy.

The benefits of educational borrowing include knowing that the ideas have already been tested and work in other places. It removes the need to ‘reinvent the wheel’, providing structure in the form of an established model to be followed. Nonetheless, borrowing should not be viewed as a quick fix. The source may have different sociocultural, economic, and political circumstances from the target. Furthermore, the target may not be aware of everything that is involved in its implementation.

“This recent trend risks a repetition of the colonial history, transplanting curricula from developed countries into developing countries.”

Competency-based mathematics curricula

Revisions to competency-based mathematics curricula of African countries have advanced since the start of the millennium. The regional East African Community Common Curriculum Framework stresses the importance of competency-based curricula and suggests key competencies common to the East African community in primary education that have been actively discussed and promoted. Kusaka notes that ‘despite this trend, specific research concerning the actual nature of these revisions and whether they are being carried out appropriately is in short supply’. He explains how curriculum reforms have continued to be implemented since independence. He also notes the impact of recent large-scale international assessment tests, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Programme for International Student Assessment, on the revision of national curricula. He comments that this recent trend risks a repetition of colonial history, transplanting curricula from developed countries into developing countries.

Figure 1. Educational borrowing is a four-stage process.

Methodology

To investigate the revision process of Mozambique’s mathematics curriculum, Kusaka completed a thorough document analysis of the mathematics curriculum of primary education, together with the materials referred to in the revision process. He also conducted interviews with people involved in the 2015 curriculum revision, including representatives from the National Institute for Educational Development.

Research questions

Kusaka identified two questions to achieve his research objective of theorising the endogenous development of mathematics curricula. Firstly, what is the difference between competencies being discussed in African countries and those being discussed in developed countries at policy level? Secondly, what is the current status in Mozambique, and what are the related issues concerning competency-based mathematics educational design in curricula, textbooks and their implementation?

Analysis

Kusaka carried out a comparative analysis of the characteristics relating to competencies discussed in both developed and African countries. He made reference to the common curriculum framework of the East African Community when addressing African nations, and analysed curricula, textbooks, and lessons to reveal the current state of Mozambican competency-based mathematics education design, together with related issues.

Satoshi Kusaka’s research has significantly affected the curriculum-revision process in Mozambique.

Kusaka compared and analysed descriptions regarding competencies in the primary mathematics curriculum that took effect in 2004 and 2015. He examined the government-designed textbooks that were created based on the 2015 curriculum, from the viewpoint of the competencies the curriculum described. In addition, he observed mathematics classes at two public primary schools in the capital city Maputo. These lesson observations were analysed from the perspective of competency acquisition as described in the curriculum. Focusing on the connections between the curriculum, the textbooks, and their implementations enabled Kusaka to identify issues related to competency-based mathematics education design.

Key competencies

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development proposed three categories of competencies in terms of the abilities to use tools interactively, to interact in heterogeneous groups and to act autonomously. In addition, The Center for Curriculum Redesign advocates four dimensions of competencies: knowledge, skills, character qualities, and meta-learning. These are closely aligned with the skills referred to as ‘learning to learn’. Kusaka comments that meta-learning (learning to learn) ‘is an indispensable quality/capability in a modern society that is marked by fluctuations and uncertainty, where lifelong learning is sought’. These competencies were transplanted into the context of mathematics education and the reasons why such competencies were established were considered.

Kusaka found that the competencies displayed in the East African community are analogous to those exhibited in developed countries. Increasing internationalisation and globalisation has resulted in the competencies required to live in both a developed country or a developing country being the same.

“Meta-learning (learning to learn) is an indispensable capability in a modern society that is marked by fluctuations and uncertainty.”

Observations

While Mozambique’s mathematics curriculum is in line with the global trend in terms of competency-based education, this study revealed a disparity between the curriculum and textbooks. Teachers who follow the current textbooks find it difficult to provide lessons that improve students’ competencies, even though these improvements are a requirement of the curriculum. Textbooks are currently being revised and it is expected that the new versions will align with the new curriculum. The subsequent challenge will be to improve the quality of teaching to provide lessons that foster students’ competencies.

Research findings

This investigation disclosed three main outcomes. Firstly, the Ministry of Education and Human Development’s nationwide surveys of academic ability, together with parent interviews and teacher questionnaires, have significantly affected the curriculum-revision process. Secondly, opinions from various social and economic groups function as one of the main influences supporting this process. Finally, the National Institute for Educational Development has shown a strong initiative throughout the process.

Riccardo Mayer/Shutterstock.com

Using Mozambique as a case study, Kusaka has clarified how its primary mathematics education curriculum, textbooks, classes, etc, were developed, as well as the issues faced when undertaking this development. His study revealed that there was no significant change in learning content between the 2004 and 2015 curricula. It is clear, however, that competencies have been revised from those linked to basic knowledge and skills to those associated with practical skills.

Within its competencies, the 2015 curriculum emphasised the need for students to be able to use social, cultural, and technological tools in an interactive manner. Most of the content of the new textbook, however, still focuses on basic competencies targeting basic knowledge and skills. Kusaka found that the nurturing of practical competencies as listed in the curriculum was very much dependent on the abilities of the teacher.

Gaps in the textbook bridge

The textbook should serve as a bridge between the intended and practiced curriculum, but the analysis found large gaps in the content which prevented this. Moreover, many teachers do not appear to have sufficient understanding of the content of the practical competencies described in the curriculum, nor the abilities to convey them in lessons.

The key to mathematics curriculum design

Kusaka notes that the key issue is the endogenous development of the mathematics curriculum. The accumulation of basic research such as this study has broad and important implications for improving the quality of education. ‘Promoting the accumulation of experience and deepening teachers’ specialisation will enable the development of a curriculum that is truly rooted in the country of Mozambique’, says Kusaka. He hopes that similar studies can be performed in other African nations.

Kusaka would also like to study the implementation of the new curriculum and analyse how it is internalised into Mozambique. In addition, he would like to examine the key process and components that can actualise endogenous mathematics curriculum development.


What has been the most rewarding outcome of this research?

There is a lot of research focusing on the curriculum document (the product), however, very little research focusing on the process of its development and revision.The key to improving the quality of education is the process of curriculum development and revision, and whether endogenous development takes place in its process. The most rewarding outcome of this research is that we proposed a research methodology that focuses on the process of curriculum development and revision, and we also showed the importance of endogenous development in the process.

 

References

  • Satoshi, K (2021). The Role of Curriculum Studies in the Spread of Competency-Based Educational Reforms in African Countries. Africa Educational Research Journal, 11, 26–35.
  • Satoshi K Nhêze, IC & Baba, T (2020). Analysis of the intended mathematics curriculum revision process in Mozambique from the perspective of relevance, Journal of Curriculum Studies, [online]. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220272.2020.1855256
  • Satoshi, K (2019). Issue Analysis of Competency-Based Mathematics Curriculum Design in African Countries: A Case Study of Mozambique’s Primary Mathematics Education. Journal of Education and Learning. 9(1). https://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/jel/article/view/0/41723
DOI
10.26904/RF-138-1776201638

Research Objectives

Satoshi Kusaka researches the process of formulating mathematics curricula in developing countries.

Collaborators

  • Professor Takuya Baba, Hiroshima University, Japan
  • Dr Ismael Cassamo Nhêze, National Education Development Institute, Mozambique

Bio

Satoshi Kusaka Satoshi Kusaka is a lecturer at the Global Education course at the Graduate School of Education, Naruto University of Education in Japan. His specialty is mathematics education. His research interests includes sociocultural aspects of mathematics curricula, endogenous development of mathematics education, and meta-cognition in mathematics learning. He engages in various projects of mathematics education especially in African countries.

Satoshi Kusaka

Contact
748, Nakajima, Takashima, Naruto-cho
Naruto-shi, 772-8502 Japan

E: kusaka@ksm.world
T: +81 90 9145 7153
W: www.researchgate.net/profile/Satoshi-Kusaka
W: http://naruto-u.ac.jp/edb/english/researcher/2021033100084/
W: http://ksm.world/sample-page/

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