Posted on April 12, 2022

Maths Curriculum at Durham University to Be ‘Decolonised’

Kaya Terry, Daily Mail, April 9, 2022

A new guide has urged professors at Durham University to make their maths curriculum ‘more inclusive’ and to consider the ‘cultural origins’ of concepts they teach, it has emerged.

The prestigious institution, ranked seventh in the UK for their maths curriculum, asked academics to question themselves if they are citing ‘mostly white or male’ mathematicians in a bid to ‘decolonise’ the syllabus and make the topic ‘more open’.

All staff have been asked to ‘consider giving short biographies’ of the research they will be citing within the module to ensure the subject ‘can be used to assist in trying to achieve equality’.

The guide says that if mathematicians are ‘almost completely (or even completely) white and/or male, ask yourself why they are. See if you can find contributions to the field from mathematicians of other genders/ethnicities’.

According to The Telegraph, Durham University scientists were asked to investigate how the ‘power of 10, represented by the word “billion”, ‘differs from country to country’, and how ancient Indian astronomer Brahmagupta ‘assigned a different meaning to the value of zero.’

On their website, the university said decolonising the mathematical curriculum ‘means considering the cultural origins of the mathematical concepts, focuses, and notation we most commonly use.’

Professors were also asked to ‘consider whether you can present the context outside of a Western frame of reference’ when using examples to explain puzzles.

The guide uses an example of Simpson’s paradox, which is illustrated by two examples from the western world – survivors of the Titanic and enrolment in an American University. It says the statistical module could also be explained using the under-representation of Maori in New Zealand jury pools ‘to discuss how maths can be used to aid attempts to secure equality’.

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

‘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 may even be important, if only because mathematics is rather more central to the advancement of science than is literature’.

A Durham University spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘Mathematical Sciences at Durham are a rigorous and comprehensive discipline.

‘The maths curriculum our students learn remains the same, and we also encourage students to be more aware of the global and diverse origins of the subject, and the range of cultural settings that have shaped it. Two plus two will always equal four.’

It comes as the university has said it will undertake a review into its policies for inviting external speakers, following a dramatic row in the aftermath of students walking out of an after-dinner speech by columnist Rod Liddle’s in December.

But protesters said the university is seeking a ‘systemic cover-up’ of the controversy, following comments Mr Liddle reportedly made, arguing it has failed to support marginalised students throughout.

At the time, South College principal Professor Tim Luckhurst was criticised for yelling ‘pathetic’ as students left the talk, even though most were unaware that Mr Liddle would be speaking when they chose to attend.

He stepped back from his duties, but has since resumed them at the start of the academic term.