Student Engagement in Mathematics lessons and tasks during Transition from Primary to Secondary School

  • Sooryadev Purdasseea

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This Hermeneutic phenomenological study focuses on students’ experience on transition and its perceived effects on engagement in Mathematics lessons and tasks during their first year of secondary schooling in Mauritius. As students transit from primary to secondary school, they are required to extend and transform their mathematical knowledge and skills to meet the requirements of secondary Mathematics learning. Following an earlier study conducted in Stage 1 of the Professional Doctorate in Education (EdD), it was found that some students who excelled in Mathematics in their end of primary school examination achieved lower test results than expected by teachers during their first year at secondary school. Teachers reported that these students displayed a loss in motivation and low levels of engagement in Mathematics. These findings prompted this current study which aims to understand the factors influencing students’ engagement in Mathematics as they transit to secondary school.

A socio-constructionist approach was adopted, which enabled an in-depth exploration of students’ perspectives on their experiences relating to their engagement in Mathematics lessons and tasks. Data were collected from seven semi-structured group interviews involving 23 students. Participants were purposefully selected to include students obtaining 75% or above in their end of primary education Mathematics examination, but who experienced a substantial decline in their in-class test performances in the subject during their first year at secondary school. Data were analysed using a thematic approach.

The findings revealed that the participants reported experiencing discontinuities in the curriculum and instructional practices, and reduced levels of support concerning Mathematics teaching and learning, all of which impacted negatively on their engagement in Mathematics. Findings also indicate that students disengaged from Mathematics learning when teachers covered topics, students had already mastered during their primary school education, and when students perceived new mathematical topics as challenging.

One key contribution of this study is that the type of students selected have high self-concept and high expectations about their secondary schooling. The findings suggest that these students were unanimously disappointed and frustrated about their school allocation which indicates that they started secondary school with low school belonging. The latter is found to be a key factor in mediating their (dis)engagement in mathematics. ii

Another key contribution to knowledge is that the linearity of the Kahu and Nelson’s conceptual model was found to be limiting to map the findings from this study. Despite that it was not the scope of this study to extend this model, however, the model was restraining when students experienced setbacks and used coping strategies, adaptive and maladaptive, to help or hinder the building of academic buoyancy or everyday resilience. It has been challenging to fit the two constructs of coping and academic buoyancy within a linear conceptual model of student engagement. A cyclic model that would fit the type of data that emerged from this current study would help better understand students’ disengagement and re-engagement.
Date of AwardJan 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorCarol Robinson (Supervisor), David Stephens (Supervisor) & RAVIN HEMANT BESSOONDYAL (Supervisor)

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