Journal of Basic Education


1997.第7卷第1期(Vol. 7 No. 1).pp. 161–167


Mathematics in Daily Life Contexts and Mathematics Learning in School

黃家鳴(Ka-Ming WONG)




For pedagogical and pragmatic reasons, there is currently a popular tendency to demand relevance of school mathematics learning to daily life applications. When this was taken to the extreme, there would be a danger of simplistically equating school mathematics learning to acquiring methods to solve mathematical problems in daily life contexts. While practical problems are by and large solved with given contextual cues, constraints and compromise, mathematics, as a theoretical discipline, has a different focus than solving problems immediately at hand. It is in the first place a theoretical pursuit, an abstract study of quantitative and spatial relationships. Exactly because of this consideration of real-world problems at a higher abstract level, mathematics thereby gains its wider utility. Furthermore, recent research in educational psychology has shown that students come to solve equivalent mathematical problems in practical situations and in mathematics classrooms differently in terms of understanding as well as the choice of strategies. It seems that students tend to treat school mathematics problems as intrinsically hypothetical or artificial. The current local curriculum innovation, the Target-Oriented Curriculum (TOC), in advocating indiscriminate use of contextual mathematical tasks for mathematics learning, may have overlooked the special nature of mathematics and therefore the necessary distinction between mathematics as a theoretical discipline and mathematics as used in practical situations. This article argues that the issue of using problems in daily life contexts in teaching mathematics has to be considered not only in the light of motivational and pragmatic issues, but should also be examined in terms of the nature of mathematics itself and the desirable level of abstract thought towards which students are to be cultivated.