Sunday, June 27, 2010

HPM Newsletter 74

HPM Newsletter 74 is now available.

It is a little thin, but includes information about interesting new books, for instance, so it's still worth a look. (Of course, since I'm one of the editors I would always say that.)

HPM is the "International Study Group on the Relations Between the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics".

Mathematical teaching in North Korea

This blog has been silent lately - but things will get better, as I am planning to blog from the ESU6 conference in Vienna.

However, I just read an interesting article that I would like to tell you about:

Contents or ideology? A case study of mathematical teaching in North Korea. Written by Alexander Karp and Jung Hang Lee, published in Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 30: 1, 1-13.

The article gives the results of an interview study where both teachers and students from North Korea that have now found refuge in South Korea. The article deserves to be read in full, but I still want to mention a few points:

Ideology is a part of mathematics teaching in North Korea. An example mentioned in the article is text problems where collective farms have exceeded their goals "due to the beneficial influence of the Great Leader". In fact, mathematics lessons follow the same sequence as almost everywhere in the world, except for one detail: a 45-minute lesson should include Review, Checking Homework, Reinforcing the Policy of the Party, Delivering New Knowledge and Practice. "Reinforcing the Policy of the Party" is not a standard part of lessons in most countries, and some countries (such as Norway) has also almost done away with the "Checking Homework" part.

We see that Tim Rowland's concept of "contingency" has a part to play also in this context. The authors tell of a new teacher who came to the classroom to find a frog inside a box, with a sign from the frog's neck saying "Let's study math!" The teacher managed to turn this into a teachable moment, telling them about frogs' importance for the crops and telling them that they would, due to the leadership of the Great Leader, produce more crops in the future. (Sadly, we know that the "Great Leader" has mismanaged the country, also when it comes to crops.)

The article does not just tell us about the North Korean system, but reminds us that Stieg Mellin-Olsen long ago told us that mathematics will always include some politics and ideology. The authors also cite Gert Schubring and say that a difference between "what is officially proclaimed and what actually goes on" is nothing special for North Korea.

An interesting article.