Why Teach mathematics to Adults?

Lene Østergaard Johansen

    Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/conference proceedingReport chapterCommunication



       This Thesis focuses on the justification problem and especially the question Why teach mathematics  to adults with lack of basic mathematical skills? Reasons for mathematics education are seldom explicitly formulated, often the reasons are implicit and only in rare cases, we have direct access to reasons for mathematics education. When the Danish Government, in the autumn 1999, presented a coming reform of the Adult educational system including a brand new numeracy course for adults, PAE-mathematics, I felt that this could be the rare case. The research question of this thesis is answered through an analysis of the development of this new mathematics course. I have focused on reasons given by three different groups of active partners in the curriculum development process. I have focused on: (1) Politicians and Officials (2) The Curriculum Planners of PAE-mathematics (3) A selected group of mathematics teachers. I distinguish analytically between three different discourses. The Political Discourse, The Curriculum Planner Discourse and The Mathematics Teachers Discourse. The discourses are analysed separately and I distinguish between explicit reasons and implicit reasons.   
       In the thesis I construct a framework or a tool for my analysis of the three discourses, which consists of three elements. I identify the explicit reasons asking the question "Why teach mathematics to adults?" to the texts of each discourse. To identify the implicit reasons, I assume that it is necessary to construct a need for education in each discourse. I combine four educational questions (who, how, what and why) with elements from discourse analysis.
       On the basis of  my analysis of three discourses I conclude that the explicit reasons of the three discourses are not conflicting but very similar. The reasons for providing adults with mathematics education are: - To prepare the adults for further education; - To give every adult equal rights and possibilities to take part in education; - To strengthen the prerequisites of the adults' to participate actively in all aspects of life within society; - That the ability to act in all areas of life increases considerably with good (functional/basic) numeracy skills.
       The analysis of the implicit reasons shows that the politicians construct a need for education through the way they talk about the demands of the labour market, the demands of the educational system, the demands of society and the demands of everyday life. The politicians construct a Target Group which is excluded from society, thus, unable to act in society and the labour market. The Politicians want to give the Target Group the possibility to change their lives through education so that they will be able to take part in the Danish society - in the labour market as well as being active citizens. The adults will no longer be excluded but now included in society.
       Similarly the Curriculum Planners construct a need for education. The world picture of the Curriculum Planners is equal to the politicians.  The Curriculum Planners draw a picture of the Target Groups as groups of competent people. People who live their daily lives in the same way as everybody else, who manage their jobs in a competent way and take part in society. But they also draw a picture of people who are not aware of their own competencies, who see the way they solve problems at their jobs as common-sense solutions, not including mathematical skills. They draw a picture of people who think, Mathematics is not for me! And I don't need mathematical skills to cope with MY life!" and Mathematics is the one subject I can't manage! The Curriculum Planners see numeracy courses as a means to lead people from being able to - to knowing that they are able to, knowing which kind of skills they possess and what they can use them for. The Curriculum Planners see education as a way of empowering the adults. It has not been possible to identify a construction of need for education or implicit reasons in the Mathematics Teachers Discourse.
       Even that there are common explicit reasons for providing adults with mathematics education my analysis has shown that there are conflicting implicit reasons, and that these are based on different understandings of specific humans, mathematics and mathematics teaching. I propose that instead of building the framework for the analysis of the implicit reasons on the idea of a construction of a need for education, we could build the framework of the analysis on the idea of construction an ideal for human development and look at the Concept of Bildung as an answer to the justification problem.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationPhD Dissertations in 2006-2007 from The International Doctoral School of Technology and Science at Aalborg University
    Place of PublicationAalborg
    PublisherFaculty of Engineering, Science and Medicine
    Publication date2008
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


    • adult education
    • Adults and mathematics,
    • adults and numeracy
    • The Concept of Bildung
    • The problem of justification
    • didactical design
    • matematics education and planning


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