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Durham University Encourages Maths Professors to Decolonise Curriculum

Ella Kipling April 11, 2022

Durham University has published a guide to decolonising the math curriculum. It explains that ‘mathematics is not a subject that exists independently of debates over influence and focus,’ and provides a list of suggestions and resources to help lecturers.

According to the guide, ‘the question of whether we have allowed western mathematicians to dominate in our discipline is no less relevant than whether we have allowed western authors to dominate the field of literature’.

It suggests that it may even be more important, because mathematics ‘is rather more central to the advancement of science than is literature’.

Considering Cultural Origins

The guide argues that decolonising the mathematics curriculum means ‘considering the cultural origins of the mathematical concepts, focusses, and notation we most commonly use, along with the goals we cite as justification for creating mathematics as a job, rather than a hobby’.

‘It involves ensuring the global project to expand our understanding of mathematics genuinely is global, and frankly assessing the discipline’s failures – past and present – to work toward that aim,’ it states.

The guide suggests that professors should consider giving ‘short biographies’ of the mathematicians whose work they present.

When doing this, if they realise that they are ‘almost entirely (or even completely) white and/or male’ they should ask themselves why this is.

‘Outside A Western Frame Of Reference’

Lecturers are encouraged to try to find contributions to the field from mathematicians of other genders and ethnicities.

Furthermore, when lecturers are tying examples in to real-world contexts, they are encouraged to consider whether they can present the context ‘outside of a western frame of reference.’

Using an example from statistics, the guide discusses the two common examples of Simpson’s paradox which involve survivors of the Titanic, and enrolment in an American University, both examples from the western world.

However, it states that there is also an example one can cite which is ‘based on the representation of the under-representation of Maori in New Zealand jury pools.’

This example ‘both decentres Europe, and also offers the ability to discuss how maths can be used to aid attempts to secure equality.’

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Ella Kipling is a freelance reporter at GRV Media. She regularly writes a mixture of news and features for HITC, Reality Titbit, and The Focus, and she has been part of the team since 2020. Ella also helped launch GRV’s student-centered website Freshered in January 2021 and continues to contribute to the site with pieces on current affairs, sports, and student advice. After graduating from the University of Birmingham with a BA (Hons) in English Literature, Ella is currently studying for an MA in Magazine Journalism at City University. Ella has a keen interest in current affairs and can usually be found reading the news, with her nose in a book (and updating her Goodreads), talking about women’s rights, or listening to showtunes.