# Post-graduate students' conceptions and perceptions of mathematics : a study of social science students at the Pietermaritzburg Campus, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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## Date

2015

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## Abstract

The study asserts that conceptions and perceptions as meanings that students attach to
mathematics either align them or misalign them with the competencies, skills and know-how
that qualify one as competent or incompetent in mathematics. The way students perform in
mathematics on the other hand also prefigures students’ conceptions and perceptions towards
mathematics. The way students perform in mathematics, particularly the poor mathematics
performance under investigation and differentiated mathematics outcomes are expressions of
the success or failure of the collision between the human habitus and habitus that is valued in
mathematics learning. Conceptions and perceptions therefore reflect the socio-cultural
dynamics, social relations and processes that inform these habituses. This is crucial for
understanding the underlying causes of poor mathematics performance by students as a
starting point in improving how they perform in mathematics.
The objective of the study is to understand how students’ conceptions and perceptions of
mathematics influence how they perform in mathematics and in courses with mathematics as
the underlying method as expressed in mathematics outcomes. Twelve University of
KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) post graduate (Masters and PhD) students in the social sciences
were interviewed for the study. The study also seeks to establish how students’ conceptions
and perceptions prefigure students’ choice of research method for their current research
(narratives vs figures) much against this choice being made on the basis of the kind of data.
These are investigated within Bourdieu’s theory of social practice and social constructivism.
It is salient from the study that all of reality filters through the embodiment of the perceiver
or conceiver and that individual students realities are mediated by their social class. Poor
mathematics performance is thus an expression of the socio-cultural epistemologies and
discourses that characterise various societies, of what mathematics is and how it should be
learned. It is the social environment that informs the students’ perceptions and conceptions of
mathematics and how they come to know and understand themselves as mathematics
learners. Active participation in their own learning however challenges some of the socially
constructed meanings around mathematics, thus increasing their agential capacity to acquire
the valued habitus in mathematics. The study also concludes that findings on conceptions and
perceptions are better off not generalised to wider populations as they tend to be the specific
groups being investigated.

## Description

Master of Social Science in Sociology. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2015.

## Keywords

University of KwaZulu-Natal. -- College of Humanities., Graduate students -- Mathematics -- Attitudes., Mathematics -- Students -- Attitudes., Social sciences -- South Africa -- Pietermaritzburg -- Students., Theses -- Sociology.