LETTER OF THE DAY - Focus on curriculum
Once again we have started a nine-day debate about education. This time it is about maths education. As usual with these debates, we start and end with the personnel. If only we had better maths teachers; if only we had better maths students, then our problems would magically disappear.
Once again the debate seeks to find solutions outside ourselves and so we begin to think that somewhere out there in the rest of the world, we must have better maths teachers than the ones we have here. Since this problem exists in the entire Caribbean, then it cannot only be a problem in Jamaica. So there has to be something else wrong apart from poor maths teachers and students.
I would like to suggest that in this debate, instead of examining personnel only, we examine the curriculum as well. This is because I am sure, as a maths teacher myself, that a major part of the problem lies not in how we teach or who teaches but what we teach as well.
It has always been a concern of mine that students at GSAT level are never asked to measure the length of a line or an angle but they are asked to calculate the probability of an event and asked to name the different types of triangles. Many of the things examined at Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) make mathematics an abstract subject and not one that is practical. Therefore, the subject is learned by rote.
At high school, the introduction of new maths meant that many more topics in maths were introduced: statistics, functions, sets, coordinates geometry, transformational geometry, vectors, matrices. This is in addition to the topics that used to be taught which were arithmetic, algebra, plane geometry and trigonometry. The time allotted for the new maths syllabus is the same as it used to be for the traditional maths syllabus. This has meant that many more topics have to be covered in the same time or in many cases less time as many schools have cut the time allocated for teaching maths.
I do not know that these additional topics have meant that our students are better prepared for the world of work than their traditional maths counterparts of yesteryear. I strongly doubt it.
Teaching the fundamentals
I would suggest that we change what we teach to go back to teaching the fundamentals in high schools, i.e. traditional maths. The other new maths topics will still be taught at the college level and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations for those who wish to study maths further so nothing will be lost. The Government can ask CXC to introduce a technical proficiency maths syllabus that stresses the fundamentals.
That's what used to happen at high school in days past. Schools had a choice between the traditional maths syllabus and the new maths syllabus and they chose the one which they thought would be most advantageous to their students' needs. The choice of syllabus did not seem to make a difference in performance at university or at the then A' Level results.
I am, etc.,
University of Technology,