Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Stephen O'Brien
School of Applied Psychology Research Seminar Series
Mathematics as (multi)cultural practice: Irish lessons from the Polish weekend school
University College Cork
Invited Seminars/Guest Lectures
Optional Fields


This paper critically analyses how mathematics is culturally engaged in the Polish ‘weekend’ school in Cork, an urban organisation that shares the same physical site as its ‘host’ Irish primary school and is so-named because it operates on Saturdays and Sundays.  Challenging the erroneous assumption that mathematics is universal, and thus culturally neutral, this paper seeks to critically investigate diverse cultural meanings and ‘ways of knowing’ that also impact on individual/social (affective) forms of identity.  This paper begins by briefly detailing the structural features of the Polish weekend school and providing an overview profile of the Polish community living in Ireland.  The rationale for the ‘weekend’ school is then discussed from both Polish and Irish perspectives.  Arising from challenges to cultural integration and a particular concern for inclusive classroom practices in mathematics, the aims of this research paper are duly set out.  A brief literature overview makes the case for mathematics as (multi)culturala practice, with specific attention to both its cognitive and affective outcomes.  Empirical findings further explore and develop conceptual insights via latest ‘lived’ accounts of our numerous visits to the school, including: recent semi-structured interviews with the principal and head maths teacher of the weekend school; observations of a sixth class primary mathematics class (12 year-olds); individual conversations and focus group interviews with pupils of this class; and analysis of Polish and Irish mathematics textbooks.  Both conceptual and empirical insights critically inform specific cultural lessons for Irish education.  These lessons ultimately draw on the greater need for ‘parallel integration’, whereby two divergent education systems attempt to culturally coalesce at some level of school policy and/or mathematics classroom practice.


Keywords: Polish weekend school; multicultural mathematics; Irish cultural lessons; ‘parallel integration’.

a We use the term ‘(multi)cultural’ throughout the paper, with parentheses included.  This is to emphasise the principle (as this paper hopes to demonstrate in practice) that mathematics is cultural and that this manifests itself in differentiated (or multi-) ways.