AusAID, the national aid agency of the Australian Government, has funded a Charles Sturt University (CSU) researcher to explore how best to identify and use cultural mathematical proficiencies to assist young students to transition to school mathematics in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Dr Kay Owens, lecturer in the CSU School of Teacher Education in Dubbo
, has received an AusAID grant of $391,000 for a three-year (2013-2015) research project titled, Improving the teaching of mathematics in Papua New Guinea elementary schools by using local languages and cultural practices
“The many languages and ecologies of PNG pose challenges for teaching maths there,” Dr Owens said.
“Elementary education (years one to three) is dependent on the understanding of teachers to build on cultural knowledge and to move students to school mathematics without dysfunction and loss of identity.
“The research will use ‘design research’, a relatively new research method, to design and refine guidelines to assist elementary teachers to recognise and use cultural mathematical proficiencies, and to develop vernacular phrases for school mathematics. The research will also develop a design for professional learning with technology, and will improve education for students in more remote areas where vernacular languages are strong, to maintain respect for Elders and thus strong values in society.”
Dr Owens has extensive experience with education in PNG, dating from 1973 when she taught mathematics at the PNG University of Technology. Her research builds on 15 years of living and working in Lae, together with 13 follow-up visits over a 40-year period, visiting and staying in over 60 villages spanning 52 languages across PNG. Dr Owens’ research has focused on ethno-mathematics, looking particularly at the counting systems, measurement and space concepts, values and ways of thinking mathematically, of hundreds of the more than 800 languages from quite different PNG cultures. She emphasises eco-cultural mathematics, visuo-spatial reasoning, partnerships with community, and context for education.
“There is a growing body of research about different language groups and their mathematical proficiencies, mostly about counting,” Dr Owens said.
“There is data for 352 PNG language groups that illustrate how village activities such as gardening; building bridges, traps, and canoes; weaving walls, mats, and baskets; making other artefacts; playing games; navigating on sea and land; hunting and fishing; and participating in exchanges can be linked to mathematics. There was a strong recognition from student teachers that incorporating cultural activities would strengthen students’ learning and understanding of mathematics and revitalise cultural practices. The language should support conceptual development rather than be transliterations.”
Dr Owens is affiliated with CSU’s Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education
(RIPPLE), which has supported this project by providing a fellowship for one semester for her as principal researcher, and providing a project manager. Dr Owens will work with the Glen Lean Ethnomathematics Centre (GLEC) in the Division of Mathematics and Computing at the University of Goroka. All but two researchers involved in this project are PNG nationals. Support will also be given by an Australian linguist familiar with remote Indigenous language strengths for mathematics education.