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Northern Institute

Mathematics in Indigenous Languages

Extending the scope of bilingual education in the NT
Presenter Dr Cris Edmonds-Wathen Senior Lecturer in Education, Faculty of Arts and Society, CDU
Contact person
Northern Institute
T: 08 8946 7468 E:
Location Northern Institute's Savanna Room
CDU Casuarina Campus
Yellow 1, Level 2, Room 48
Open to Public
People. Policy. Place. Seminar series 2023


This presentation will report on a collaboration with several remote NT communities and schools that want to teach more mathematics in their own languages. We are looking at how each language expresses mathematical concepts and planning a series of mathematics lessons that can be taught in each language.

Currently, many children who speak Indigenous languages don’t get to learn school mathematics in their own languages, even in some bilingual schools. Although many bilingual programs have included mathematics, not much of what has been learnt and done in individual communities has been used to inform curriculum documents or theoretical and methodological perspectives to further this field of education development. This presentation contextualises the current study in its historical, cultural, linguistic and geographical context (Devlin et al., 2017; Palmer et al., 2017). The study is trialling the use of an innovative functional typological approach to the languages of mathematics (Edmonds-Wathen, 2019), which affords equal privilege to diverse languages, countering the deficit narratives pervasive in education policy from fundamental concepts and constructs. The aim is to bring together people and learning from different languages and communities to share knowledge and create guidelines for identifying and developing mathematics language that can help other schools and communities extend their first language education in the future.


 Cris Edmonds-Wathen

Dr Cris Edmonds-Wathen

My main research interest is how different languages express mathematical ideas. I am particularly interested in mathematical expression in non-Indo-European languages, including languages that have not formally been used in schooling, such as many Australian Indigenous languages. I am also interested in policies and practices associated with the use of different languages in mathematics education, with a focus on Indigenous education. I have researched these areas in both Australia and Papua New Guinea. I did postdoctoral research at the University of Melbourne (2016-2018) and Umeå University, Sweden (2014-2016).

I lecture in mathematics education with expertise in the early acquisition of mathematics and cultural contexts of mathematics. I have coordinated the Growing Our Own program, a partnership with Catholic Education NT that delivered community-based teacher training to Indigenous assistant teachers in remote communities and have also worked on the Remote Aboriginal Teacher Education (RATE) program. I have also provided professional development to elementary school teachers in various provinces of Papua New Guinea. I am a qualified and registered primary school teacher, and before entering academia, I taught in various schools in Darwin and the Top End.


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