Students' views on their transition from school to college mathematics: rethinking ‘‘transition’’ as an issue of identity

We examine the transition from school (compulsory education) to college (postcompulsory/ pre-university) of students who are continuing their mathematical education. Previous work on transition between institutions suggests that transitional problems can be critical, and students often regard mathematics as ‘difficult’ during transitional periods. However, our analysis of students’ interviews showed a more positive discourse, one of reported challenge, growth and achievement; transition was not seen as an obstacle but as an opportunity to develop a new identity. Particularly in relation to mathematics, this was reflected in a need for a better understanding of the subject, and for being more responsible for their learning. Thus, we propose to re-think transition as a question of identity in which persons see themselves developing due to the distinct social and academic demands that the new institution poses. Conceptualising transition in this way could have important practical implications for the way that institutions support students’ transition.