Seminar on in(ex)clusion and the construction of the “Other” in math and science education

By on 24.08.2017 in Seminars
Professor Paola Valero, Stockholm University

Professor Paola Valero, Stockholm University

JustEd member Professor Paola Valero is part of the organizing group gathering 16 international scholars and 14 PhD students to explore new directions for research on mathematics and science education for students with a background of immigration in a seminar. The seminar takes place on 26–28 September at Stockholm University.

“The low achievement of these students in math and science, documented in PISA and TIMMS, is a current challenge for educators and policy makers”, says Professor Paola Valero, Stockholm University.

The seminar addresses the question of how in math and science education practices there emerge views of immigrant students as the “Other” who is different, deficient and often inferior. Such views frame the participation of students in education and may result in exclusion from success in these important areas.

Starting in Sweden and contrasting with other countries, the seminar offers a platform for conversation and further collaboration on the problems, theories, methodologies and applications of such research for improving education.

The seminar is designed as discussion panels to maximize exchange among participants. One panel session will be open to interested teachers and researchers. The seminar will consolidate existing connections among participants and will lead to further research on this topic.

“It is the first time that a seminar with focus on both math and science and on the education of students with non-Swedish background takes place in Sweden. We want to contribute to the understanding of the current key challenges of Swedish education,” says Paola.

It addresses the question of how math and science education practices build notions of these students as “the other” and impact learners’ sense of belonging to their new schools and societies. This may result in distancing from learning possibilities in math and science and thus in exclusion from participation in education.

The inclusion and success of new comers

The increase of diversity in the student population due to immigration in Sweden has posed a great challenge to education. The increase in the population of school-age children with a foreign background demands a great investment in human and economic resources in providing adequate education to a whole new and sometimes unknown group in the population.

The inclusion and success of new comers in education is a key factor in achieving social cohesion and economic productivity for the individual, communities and the overall society. However, the extent to which Sweden has succeeded in achieving such inclusion is debatable.

Critical studies point to the pitfalls of such process by looking at sociological trends as well as to how children and families with an immigrant background experience barriers to educational success. One of these critical points is the systematic low achievement of most immigrant groups in school subjects, particularly in math and science.

Fighting the “achievement gap”

The persistence of immigrant students’ lower results in math and science evidenced in PISA (Skolverket, 2016a) and TIMMS (Skolverket, 2016b) in Scandinavian countries (OECD, 2006) is creating what in the USA has been called the “achievement gap” (e.g., Ladson-Billings, 2006).

All around the world, the differential results of population groups in standardized tests in math and science has been a matter of concern for educators, policy-makers and researchers alike.

Success in both math and science is considered an important means for achieving access to further educational and work opportunities. With these follow personal and social integration into the new societies.

In a current climate where democracy seems to be at stake due to the increase in inequalities among different groups in the population, the (lack of) participation and involvement in and with math and science are important to address. Therefore, the “achievement gap” in math and science is an important phenomenon to understand and to challenge (Gutiérrez & Dixon-Román, 2011).

The differential achievement is often researched from a perspective that prioritizes the students’ (lack) of mastery of the language of instruction as the core of the lower results. However, other theoretical positions view math and science education as processes where cultural identification and belonging are constitutive elements in the appropriation of math and scientific thinking in schools (Bianchini & Akerson, 2013; Chronaki, 2016). These studies offer alternative paths of action in educational practices (Verma, 2009).

New advancements in theory and methodology

The seminar seeks to bring to the fore new advancements in theory and methodology of research in this area, to identify what is known about the configuration of math and science education practices and their relation to processes of in(ex)clusion, and to develop new strategies to connect the research results with the education of teachers and new researchers in math and science education.

It is a starting point of departure the thesis that the challenges posed by the increased diversification of student population make evident how mathematics and science in the school curriculum cannot continue being perceived as cultural and political-free areas; but rather as areas where both their content and pedagogy are immersed in promoting access or closing doors for many students whose background differs from that of the mainstream population groups.

Thus, research that examines differential access to math and science from perspectives that highlight inclusion/exclusion as well as the connection between these and the positioning of immigrant students as “the other” may offer new understandings to the documented differential school results.

The setup of the seminar is innovative because it promotes research dialogue in math and science education together —and not as separate fields of study, as it is frequently done—, and in collaboration with researchers from general education and other fields of study.

The interaction and activities between a group of respected senior researchers from different countries, and a PhD students from different institutions in Sweden and abroad is also designed to foster new research. Generating such diverse, face to face meeting of expertise is a strategy to challenge existing research findings and think of future research and educational alternatives.

The concrete results of the seminar would be to give the opportunity to PhD students to interact with top international researchers in the field and through this contribute to the adoption of new directions in their research; and promote collaborative research initiatives between the invited teams of research. This will be possible due to the fact that the invited senior participants have bonds of previous, sustained collaboration in the past on related topics. This opportunity will allow starting new projects in this particular topic

26–28th September 2017, from 9:00 to 16:00

Svante Arrheniusväg 20A, E-huset

Department of Mathematics and Science Education, Stockholm University




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