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Mathematics Education in a Neocolonial Country: The Case of Papua New Guinea

Patricia Paraide , Kay Owens , Charly Muke , Philip Clarkson , Christopher Owens
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
History of Mathematics Education
[Reviewed by
Annie Selden
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Part of Springer’s History of Mathematics Education series, this compendium of information on mathematics education in Papua New Guinea (PNG), has 13 chapters, plus four appendices, is over an inch thick (almost 500 pages), and for nonspecialists it may be all you ever wanted to know about mathematics education in PNG, and more. Each chapter begins with a short abstract, a list of key words, and a “cameo”, or personal experience, about mathematics education in PNG from one of its five authors. There are copious references at the end of each chapter, plus a combined 34-page reference list at the end, but only a 3 1/2 page index. There is detailed information about the authors, who are all mathematics education researchers. Patricia Paraide and Charly Muke are both indigenous PNG individuals who were educated through the PhD (obtained in Australia), while the other three authors are expatriates who have lived and worked in PNG and collected their PhD data during research in PNG schools. No individual chapter is attributed to a particular author, but some individual author experiences are included now and then.
The book states that a thousand different languages are spoken in PNG, each with its own counting system and numerical, visual-spatial and measurement ways of thinking, but the PNG Wikipedia article states that now 851indigenous are languages spoken in this relatively small country of 10 million, with four official languages including English. It reports on some of the mathematics that originally existed among PNG’s numerous indigenous cultural groups; the colonial introduction to PNG of western mathematical knowledge through schooling, resulting in the annihilation of much indigenous logic and meaning making; and more recent attempts to redress that legacy of colonization by including indigenous ways of sense-making into the curriculum. 
The first nine chapters are organized chronologically covering indigenous mathematics (richly illustrated with pottery designs, house building, etc.); the impact of trade and mathematics education in the early colonial period (before and after both World Wars until the early 1960s); a description of secondary and tertiary education at various PNG universities and colleges; the beginnings of education reform following the 1986 Matane Report and advice from the World Bank in the 1990s; and information on the current revision of that earlier reform. The remaining chapters consider cross temporal topics on the influence of the language of instruction (various indigenous languages versus English); research on visual-spatial reasoning in PNG students’ problem solving; the impact of neocolonialism on education (e.g., educated PNG elite who succeeded under colonial education see little reason to deviate from it); and a final look back and look forward to the future.
While this volume is clearly intended to be as full a record of the history and current state of mathematics education in PNG as the authors could make it and is clearly mostly of interest to specialists, there may be occasional sections that could interest a more general mathematical or educational reader.


Annie Selden is now retired. She is Professor Emerita of Mathematics from Tennessee Technological University, and was until recently, Adjunct Professor of Mathematics at New Mexico State University. In 2002, she was recipient of the Association for Women in Mathematics 12th Annual Louise Hay Award for Contributions to Mathematics Education. In 2003, she was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She continues to review/referee manuscripts for mathematics education research journals and also occasionally writes Media Highlights abstracts on mathematics education research for MAA’s College Mathematics Journal.