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Transnational Synergies in School Mathematics and Science Debates

Roger Openshaw and Margaret Walshaw
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Palgrave Studies in Excellence and Equity in Global Education
[Reviewed by
Frédéric Morneau-Guérin
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The education sector has historically been plagued by ideological clashes between various pressure groups. These groups only agree on one thing: the urgency for initiating far-reaching reforms. The aims of the reforms are at the heart of the dispute. For some, education is seen as too elitist and thereby contributes to reproducing social inequalities. Therefore, more equitable educational policies should be urgently developed. Others, on the contrary, believe that educational differentiation and efforts to make education more inclusive and humane have gone too far. Refocusing would be necessary. In this enlightening book, education academics Roger Openshaw and Margaret Walshaw set out to critically examine the dynamic relationship between the poles of attraction around which the apostles of educational reform usually gravitate namely, excellence and equity.
The authors’ choice to specifically focus their study on mathematics and science is not accidental. Since the establishment of public education systems in the 19th century, these curriculum areas have always occupied a prominent place in the school curriculum. Indeed, mathematics and science are seen as essential to national economic security and military predominance in an increasingly competitive environment. Consequently, any perceived underachievement – whether real or presumed – in these academic subjects tends to provoke the most heated debate over the nature and intent of school curricula.
The chapters of this book are structured chronologically. The authors address five pivotal periods during which the prevailing public discourse in education was that of insufficient academic performance, particularly in mathematics and science. These are:
  • The interwar years (1929–1938);
  • Post-Second World War (1950s/1960s);
  • The economic crisis and its impact on education (1970s);
  • The market-driven reforms on education (1980s/1990s);
  • The accountability years of the twenty-first century (2000–2020).
Openshaw and Walshaw innovate by examining these periods through the prism of transnationality. The researchers tried to better understand the mechanisms by which the concerns expressed in one country amplify those existing in another. Given the magnitude of the task, the two researchers had to limit the scope of their study to four liberal, English-speaking democracies - namely, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.
Their analysis suggests that, in terms of public education policies, political and economic power is a catalyst for transnational borrowing. Small nations like New Zealand and Australia tend to spontaneously grant the most powerful players in the global economy like the United States and the United Kingdom some form of intellectual superiority. The radical curriculum innovations developed by big nations in response to an impression of an educational crisis are often mechanically seen as inspiring pedagogical breakthroughs that the small nations hasten to borrow and adapt to their own cultural context.
Transnational Synergies in School Mathematics and Science Debates does not present groundbreaking research discoveries. Yet it is rich enough in unpublished scholarly content to interest educational specialists while remaining accessible to a wider readership including mathematicians and scientists but also, hopefully, policymakers.


Frédéric Morneau-Guérin is a professor in the Department of Education at Université TÉLUQ. He holds a Ph.D. in abstract harmonic analysis.