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University subject choice and discourses of decision-making amongst AS Level mathematics students.


University subject choice and discourses of decision-making amongst AS Level mathematics students. Pauline Davis & Maria Pampaka University of Manchester – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: University subject choice and discourses of decision-making amongst AS Level mathematics students.

University subject choice and discourses of
decision-making amongst AS Level mathematics
  • Pauline Davis Maria Pampaka
  • University of Manchester

General framework
Classroom practices
Learner identities
Programme effectiveness
March 06
Questionnaire design
Pilot case studies
(i) initial interviews
(i) initial questionnaire
Case studies in UoM and traditional AS
Sept 06
(ii) interviews round 2
(ii) post test
June 07
(ii) follow-up interviews
(ii) delayed post test
Follow up case studies
Sept 07
Dec 07

Social differences in University degree subject
choice e.g. ethnicity
Likelihood of a Minority Ethnic student
intending on a University Degree Subject to that
of a White British student for questionnaire
sample 1700 Ethnic subject choice differences
confirmed also in Hutcheson et al (2008),
statistical analysis
Sociocultural differences and subject choice
findings from the questionnaire data
  • Ethnic and gender differences in subject choice
    preferences broadly supporting existing
  • Family expectations
  • White British heritage students behaved
    differently to other minority ethnic categories,
    which broadly speaking followed the same trends
  • No discrepant gender differences between
  • Proportionally more Other than White British
    students indicated family expectation for
  • Subject choice
  • Students who indicated a preference for certain
    highly prestigious degree subjects e.g.
    medicine and dentistry, almost all also indicated
    family expectations for university, regardless of
    their heritage
  • Students not intending on university connected
    with no family expectations or expect I will
    not go. Only White students indicated no family
    expectations for university.

A bar graph of students perceived family
expectations for university split by ethnic group
Other cultural influences?
  • Our survey data picked up on social differences
    with regard to perceived family expectations for
    university in relation to ethnicity and subject
  • But we know that the most culturally situated
    practices are often invisible to the participants
    (e.g. Hall) for example, possible
    family,sibling, peer or teacher influence may
    simply be unrecognised.
  • Self-report perception data analysis Is there a
    connection with students discourses of
    educational choices and decision-making?

Seeking explanation in the interview data
  • The 32 interviewees aged 16 and 19
  • Most were from 1st generation to HE families
  • 15 were female
  • 18 were non-white - African, North American,
    Bangladeshi, Bornean, Brazilian, Bulgarian,
    Caribbean, Chinese, Columbian, East Asian,
    Ghanian, Nigerian, Pakistani, Somali, and
    Ugandan, incl. 7 recent immigrants to Britain
  • The semi-structured interviews focused on
    students past and present experiences of learning
    maths, how they chose their A level and degree
    subjects, their educational and career
    aspirations and the role of maths in their
    imagined futures
  • Students interviewed 3 or 4 times over eighteen
  • Davis et al (2008) Aspirations, subject choice
    and drop out decision-making amongst AS Level
    mathematics students, working paper series

Cultural Models beliefs that inform actions
James Gee mediate practice/identity
  • Davis et al.(2008) identified a number of
    cultural models which students drew on
    repeatedly, either in conformity or in
    resistance, and used to present themselves in
    certain ways e.g. as a dutiful son doing. These
  • a womans role is to support the family, you
    have to play the game to get ahead, its in my
    bones/culture to become a.., respect for
    parents/elders, making family proud and
    various aspirational and other culturally
    influenced ideological values.
  • Others may use different terms/ alternative
    constructions Triandis multi-dimensional
    cultural syndrome seen in shared attitudes,
    beliefs, norms, role and self definition, and
    values of members of each culture organised
    around a theme (p 407)

Contribution Two discourses of educational
  • - How students talk
  • Discourse Analysis Gee
  • This identified two distinct discourses about
    university subject choice decision-making
  • - individualistic
  • - relational community focused -collectivist
  • These discourses aligned respectively with White
    British and non-White British students
  • They show university subject choice
    decision-making as culturally produced and
    provide for understanding about influences on
    educational decision-making.

You dont want to go away? No my parents say
stay local. Why is that? Only child
(Mohamed, Pakistani recent immigrant) J Are
any other people that you know well enough to
talk to about it other than your brother who went
to Lucy No. Because it was my choice, what I
wanted to do, so they just encouraged me on what
I wanted to do. Not what anyone else wanted me to
do J Theres no one in your extended sort
of family and uncles and aunts and things like
that? So youve got one example that you feel is
a bit discouraging maybe from going to uni? L
Well yes but I just dont see why that affects
me because this is their choice and this is my
choice (Lucy, White working class)
A relational community/collectivist discourse,
valuing educational success
  • Discourse of decisions made in relation to family
    connections/influences (a relational community
  • - Talk recognised community/ family
    connections and can be seen to be relational
  • Various defining cultural models
  • - discourse of making family proud
  • - Respect for elders - e.g. being a dutiful
    son, or a respectful student
  • - Respect for educational success, certain
  • - Perceptions of goals as culturally mediated.
  • - Perceptions of strong parental expectations
    for university
  • Asian especially evident in the talk of the
    recent immigrant students
  • Chao draws on this same group of cultural models
    which she terms filial piety and uses this with
    other measures of parental behaviour to model
    cultural differences in students educational
    goals, motivations and behaviours to explain the
    cultural processes at work.

Hernandez-Martinez et al (2008) Becoming
successful repertoire
  • See also Hernandez-Martinez et al (2008)
    Becoming successful repertoire - Students
    talked about going to university as a way to
    achieve social respectability and their career
    choices were narrowed by what is culturally
    regarded as a reputable or respectable profession
    such as Medicine, Accountancy, Business or Law.
  • Parental expectations about their childrens
    choices for future education was strongly
    present. Hernandez-Martinez et al identified this
    especially amongst Asian students.
  • (Extract taken from end of project
    dissemination presentation, Hernandez-Martinez)

MP Your parents wanted you to have a better
education so they want you to go to University as
well? Mohammed Yes, they are saying we are
staying here for your education and then you can
complete it and they can go back. Anupreet I
find it really surprising. Because in Pakistan
you are always taught to respect your teacher
whereas here they dont respect teachers which I
dont think is fair on the teachers because at
the end of the day they are teaching you.
MP If you were a girl would you probably do
something different? Mohammad (M) Probably a
doctor. MP Why, do you think girls are ..? M I
dont know, in a family most Asian girls like to
be doctors. MP Why is that? M I dont know.
Its just that the family, they want them to do
good. MP And they want them to be doctors? M
Boys as well, doctors. MP The same, it doesnt
matter. M Its the respect, you see. If
someones a doctor in your family, everyone
respects you the family. And thats why they
parents want their children to be doctors. MP
So any other jobs that are respectful? Just
doctors? M I think, mostly Ive heard about
doctors in my country. MP What about your
decision, I mean, Accountancy? How do they see
it? M Its respect in my family.
No, its ok, yeah,
because Medicine is like ... one of the reasons
why I chose Biology was because my Mum wanted me
to go in Medicine, you know, she thought.., Your
Mum? Yeah. (Pakistani female, Anupreet, recent
immigrant ) Well it pushes me away from
Pharmacy more, because I hate, I cant do Biology
or Chemistry, Im just terrible at it. I think
the only reason they want me to go into that is
because my little sisters very, shes very smart
and were all expecting her to be a doctor and
they all want me to go into that as well That
kind of pushes me away from it. Like maybe you
need a roof one day, so Ill be there. (female
Pakistani heritage student who wants to be a
mechanical engineer.)
PHM Do you think your own background or your
neighbourhood where you live might have an
influence in your choices and decisions? Sabir
(dropped maths and changed to business, taking an
additional year in 6thf College) If youre
talking about my background as in community-wise
then yeah, because everyones looking forward to
seeing me go to University. My sister, my
twin-sister already training at University
already and its a great responsibility and
pressure on me to go to University as well, no
matter what course I choose they really are
looking forward to me actually going to
University now. In some ways yes it is. PHM Your
family environment is pushing you to go to
University? Sabir Yes. MP How important is it
for you to go to university? Punab (steered by
Mum to computer science instead of drama) I have
a lot of expectations to go to university. I
mean the family, they all want me to go to
university. MP And are you the first one to go
or anybody from your family....? P No, I think
my brother went so, yeah. But I guess every
parent wants their children to go to
university. MP Have your parents gone to
university, or...? P Im not sure, I didnt
really ask. But, I think every parent wants to
see their children in that graduation kit.
Individualist discourse - happy parents, - my
choice, as I like it,
  • Discourse of happy parents and my choice to
    do what I like,
  • Students used a discourse/model of individualism
    apparent to position themselves as independent
    decision makers little overt recognition of
    connections/cultural influences (White British)
  • Discourse can mask possible unvoiced parental
    and/or other influences on their decision-making
  • Discourse of individualism acted to hide social
    differences in White British students
    articulation of the cultural mediation of
    students educational decision-making. Social
    rules were less strongly classified (Bernstein)
    in their discourse, though class differences in
    the content of their talk in relation to the
    cultural mediation of university subject choice
    was sometimes evident, for example, with regard
    to cultural capital, direction, and financial
    support i.e. cultures about the value of
    education are classed
  • See also Hernandez-Martinez et al (2008)
    personal satisfaction repertoire.

  • He his Father just says to me Whatever you do
    Im happy with (Christopher, working class).
  • Lisa Um, my Mum, my Dad isnt really too
    bothered. He wants me to do whatever I want. My
    mum didnt really want me to go to university,
    and I dont know why, I just dont think she
    wants me to leave home.
  • MP She doesnt want you to leave home? What was
    she telling you?
  • Lisa She said wants me to try to get an
    apprentice, you know in what I want to do, but
    you cant really, its quite difficult to find,
    so, I just dont think she wants me to leave
  • Lisa (working class)

  • Craig (Middle class) They dont mind. They think
    its brilliant, yeah. I mean, going to
    university, my Mum obviously wants me to do that
    and she thinks its a brilliant opportunity and
    stuff and she keeps saying to me stuff like, if
    you want to stay and extra year, you stay an
    extra year.
  • PHM Now, about your decision to go into
    Veterinary. What do your parents think about
  • Sarah (Middle class) I think theyre happy for
    me, whatever Im doing. My Mums very good
    shell support me in whatever Im doing. Unless
    its something really ludicrous or a bit silly.
    Theyll really support me with it.
  • PHM What would you consider ludicrous?
  • Sarah Oh, I dont know. (Indistinct). No, she
    said shell support me in whatever Id choose to
    be honest.
  • PHM And your dad?
  • Sarah (Indistinct) whatever happens, so.
  • IK What do your parents think about your
  • J I am not too sure.
  • IK You havent talked about it?
  • J Not really. I have talked to them a bit when I
    wasnt sure whether to try and apply for a
    medicine degree or whether I shouldnt. They
    are happy with the choices I made

Existing Literature exploring
individualistic/relational collectivist models
has been widely theorised
  • Markus and Kitayama argued that American culture
    emphasizes the core cultural idea of independence
    by valuing attending to oneself and discovering
    and expressing individual qualities while
    neither assuming nor valuing overt
    connectedness. These values are reflected in
    educational and legal systems, employment and
    caretaking practices, and individual cognition,
    emotion and motivation. In contrast they argue
    that Asian culture emphasize interdependence by
    valuing the self and individuality as part of
    social context, connection among persons, and
    attending to and harmoniously coordinating with
    others. cited in Cooper and Denner (1998)
  • Kusserow (1999) Eastern - sociocentric, Western -
    individualist selves
  • See also Triandis and others
  • Grounding theory in the context of our study in
    multicultural Britain at this time in history.

The interview data findings
  • - Supports Ethnic differences in discourses
    of university subject choice as being culturally
  • - Classification not fixed but
    nevertheless two discourses aligning with White
    and Other groupings
  • - Supports existing literature in contrasting
    models Western/Eastern selves/identities
  • - Grounds these alternative ways of
    thinking about the self in the context of
    University subject-choice decision-making in
    multi-cultural Britain at this time in history
  • - Illuminates the questionnaire analysis.

Methodological Implications
  • Research Methodology needs to account for the
    unsaid, the unrecognised cultural influences
    that may be invisible to members
  • Caution against literal interpretations of
    findings of unawareness
  • Development of more sensitive measures, which
    take account of the scope of cultural models used
    by students in their university subject-choice
    decision-making. Further work is needed.

University Subject Choice Ethnic differences
  • Connect with contemporary literature of
    university degree subject decision-making e.g.
    Reay (1998), Reay et al (2001), Ball et al,
    (2002) Connor (2004), Gorard et al (1999) Archer
  • On ethnicity and subject choice e.g. Ahmad
    (2002), Ashworth and Evans (2001), Bhattacharya
    et al (2003)
  • On cultural influences e.g. Whiting and Edwards
    (1988), Ball(1999), Chen, Chao (1995,1997)
  • etc

Comments and Questions?

  • Ahmad, F. (2002). Modern Traditions? British
    Muslim Women and Academic Achievement. Gender and
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  • Ashworth, J., Evans, J. L. (2001). Modeling
    student Subject choice at Secondary and Tertiary
    Level A cross-Section Study. Journal of Economic
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  • Ball, S. J., Davies, J., David, M. Reay, D.
    (2002). Classification and Judgement social
    class and the cognitive structures of choice of
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  • Bernstein, B. (2000), 'Pedagogy, symbolic control
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    Littlefield Publishers Inc.
  • Bhattacharyya, G., Ison, L., Blair, M. (2003).
    Minority Ethnic Attainment and Participation in
    Education and Training the Evidence (DfES
    Research Topic Paper RTP01-03) London DfES.
    Collins, P. H. (1999). Moving beyond gender
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    Chinese parenting through the cultural notion of
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  • Chao, R. K. (1995). Chinese and European
    American Cultural Models of the self reflected in
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  • Connor, H. and Tyers, C. and Modood, T. and
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  • Cooper, C. R. Denner, J. (1998). Theories
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References continued
  • Davis, P., et al. (2008). Renegotiating
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  • Hernandez-Martinez, P., Black, L., Williams, J.,
    Davis, P., Pampaka, M., Wake, G. (2008)
    'Mathematics students aspirations for higher
    education class, ethnicity, gender and
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