A critical discourse analysis of a real-world problem in mathematics: looking for signs of change

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Language and Education

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Taylor & Francis


University of Cape Town

The concepts of 'access' and 'relevance' feature prominently in the discourse of change in mathematics education in South Africa. One way in which these concepts have been played out in mathematics classrooms is in the use of mathematical problems with real-world contexts. This paper presents a Critical Discourse Analysis of one such problem, selected from a first-year university access course in mathematics at a higher education institution in South Africa. Fairclough's three-dimensional model for the Critical Discourse Analysis is used to identify traces of different texts within this problem. The author argues that, in spite of evidence of texts that point to recent reforms in mathematics education and some possible signs of change, the mathematics text and the text of the school mathematical word problem remain dominant, and position the student in a particular way. The results of this analysis challenge some of the prevalent assumptions about 'access' and 'relevance' in mathematics education. The paper also highlights the potential for using Critical Discourse Analysis in mathematics education research.

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Language and Education on 19 December 2008, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/09500780802152663.