Original Research

Curriculum design for empowered life-preparation and citizenship: A sociological analysis of the evolution of the Mathematical Literacy curricula

Marc P. North
Pythagoras | Vol 45, No 1 | a768 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/pythagoras.v45i1.768 | © 2024 Marc P. North | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 July 2023 | Published: 30 April 2024

About the author(s)

Marc P. North, School of Education, Faculty of Social Science, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom


The subject Mathematical Literacy (ML) prioritises an interplay of mathematics and real-life contexts in pursuit of an empowerment agenda for improved life opportunities. In seeking to identify processes of inclusion-exclusion afforded by different conceptualisations of this interplay, a network of Bernstein’s theoretical constructs – classification, framing, discourses, and the pedagogic device – are used to analyse how different ML curricula conceptualise the notion of mathematical literacy and the criteria for legitimate communication, knowledge and practice in the subject. This analysis illustrates that despite differences in the formulation of the school subjects ML and Mathematics, enactments of the original ML National Curriculum Statement prioritised heavily mathematised methods in pseudo-realistic contexts. This approach thwarted the critical citizenship agenda of this curriculum and made it possible for ML to be criticised as watered-down mathematics. The analysis then reveals how the current ML Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement, supported by specific curriculum features, has attempted to overcome these challenges by foregrounding a life-preparedness orientation for empowered self-management and citizenship. This involved weakening the classification of academic and everyday knowledge, strengthening the framing of curriculum specifications, and foregrounding criteria for legitimate communication, knowledge and practice around contextual problem-solving and decision-making. Challenges with this approach are considered.

Contribution: The article is relevant to those involved in curriculum, task and lesson design involving an interplay of mathematics and real-life contexts. The article aims to support the current curriculum review process in South Africa by decoding and theorising curriculum features and their impact for facilitating empowered life-preparation.


mathematical literacy; curriculum design; sociology; Bernstein; pedagogic device; problem-solving; modelling; real-life contexts

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education


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