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The basis of legitimisation of mathematical literacy in South Africa.

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This study is an exercise in knowledge production: the purpose is to present a theoretical language of the structure of participation in a conception of the knowledge domain of mathematical literacy – and in the associated practices of the South African school subject Mathematical Literacy – in which an orientation for life-preparedness is prioritised. This orientation is presented as an alternative to the current structure of mathematically-legitimised forms of participation in the subject which, I argue, promote educational disadvantage. This intention is guided by the following two (paraphrased) questions: In what ways does Dowling’s (1998) language of description provide a means for problematising current practices in the subject Mathematical Literacy?; and, What characterises mathematical literacy as a knowledge domain? To facilitate use of the language for empirical analysis, two further (paraphrased) questions are posed: What would constitute an external language that would enable a (re)description of an empirical practice in the subject in terms of mathematical literacy as a knowledge domain?; and, (a) How can the external and internal languages be used to determine the dominant basis of legitimisation in a segment of the Mathematical Literacy curriculum, a textbook, teacher education course notes, and national assessments?; (b) How can identification of the dominant basis of legitimisation be used to determine coherence or disjunction within and between practices/discourse in the subject? Through a methodology of textual analysis I argue that the developed language facilitates identification of the prioritisation of different domains of practice in the texts, with only the texts from the teacher education course reflecting an orientation for life-preparedness. Implications of the disjuncture between these texts for practice and policy are highlighted, together with the potential consequence of emphasis on primarily mathematised forms of participation. I also offer suggested policy and practice implications for the adoption of a life-preparedness orientation. I conclude by arguing that the empirical analysis demonstrates the coherence of the developed language for identifying the structure of participation in practices that draw on the knowledge domain of mathematical literacy: this is the key finding. However, the language is not without deficiencies and limitations; these are identified and discussed.


Ph. D. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2015.


Mathematics--Study and teaching., Mathematical ability., Mathematics--Study and teaching--South Africa., Theses--Education.