Mature non-specialist undergraduate students and the challenges they face in learning mathematics

Zergaw, Getachew (2014) Mature non-specialist undergraduate students and the challenges they face in learning mathematics. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This research uses a case study approach to examine the learning experiences of mature non-specialist first year undergraduate university students studying mathematics as an ancillary subject. The challenges faced by such students taking mathematics as a subsidiary subject within their main degree have not been adequately addressed in the literature: this study seeks to address this gap.

The research took place in a UK inner-city post-1992 university which has a very diverse student intake. A qualitative data set was generated from in-depth and focus group interviews of 22 mature students, the majority of whom were non-specialists taking mathematics as a required ancillary subject. An additional quantitative data set was derived from a questionnaire distributed to 250 students taking first year mathematics modules, either as an ancillary or as a specialism subject. A small number of mature students specialising in mathematics in both the interviews and the survey were included in order to compare the experiences and views of the both specialist and non-specialist groups. The Mixed Methods Research Design adopted combined results from the qualitative and quantitative analyses, and was accompanied by a post-structuralist theoretical framework which examines the discursive practices students were exposed to in relation to their construction of mathematics as a subject and their experiences of learning mathematics.

The study shows that the major perceived factors that affect mature non-specialist students learning of mathematics include the pedagogical model that is used; the attitudes and beliefs of the learners; the support available to aid learning; and the prevalent discourses about the learning and perceptions of mathematics. These findings have a number of important implications for policy and practice for teaching mathematics to such students, for our understanding of student identities and for widening participation. The evidence from this study suggest that there should be a shift of government policy on access and financing for mature students; a review of mechanism of financial support for mature students; changes in the organisation and resourcing of small classes; a review of curriculum and pedagogy to fit the diverse background of learners; and the development of mathematics support provisions that are embedded in courses that require mathematical skills.

Getachew Zergaw EdD Final Thesis.pdf - Accepted Version

Download (1MB) | Preview


Downloads per month over past year

Downloads each year

View Item View Item