Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
One mathematics specialist is determined to apply his expertise to help students ace the subject at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) levels.
Raffic Shaw, a mechanical engineer by profession, who has been teaching mathematics from 1988 as a fifth form student at Kingston College, thinks that despite what many believe, mathematics can be made easy.
"It is hard work to make maths easy, but if you do it the right way, it becomes easy. It does take a lot of effort and both teachers and students have to be prepared to do the hard work," he noted.
"The method that I apply breaks it down in a simplified, easy-to-understand format and it works and gets the results."
Over the past few years, the CSEC mathematics pass marks have drastically declined. Last year Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites described as shocking the overall performance of students, with mathematics having the lowest results. Only 31.7 per cent of the students who sat the subject attained passes, a decrease from 33.2 per cent in 2011 and 39.5 per cent in 2010.
On the weekend, the education ministry said it has been employing several innovations to help improve this year's results; among them, maths and English teachers' workshops that were held in December.
The ministry is also working with high schools to organise camps for students in those subjects.
Shaw, who tutors students from a number of schools during the evenings at Kingston College, said he earned 94 per cent passes for the students he tutored last year, 68 per cent of them with grade one.
"I strongly believe that Jamaicans can do maths. We are predisposed to maths. It is not the students who are the problem. My experience over the years is that they can learn and do well. The problem is how they are being taught," Shaw told The Gleaner.
He said several critical changes need to be made in the teaching method, including having longer classes; doing as many mock exams as possible; having one-on-one sessions with students; and teaching the syllabus from back to front to ensure that the harder topics are dealt with first, allowing a longer period for revision.
"I put a strong emphasis on the exam preparation phase. My students have to do up to 15 mock exams leading up to the real deal. They get a lot of practice, so that by the time they get to the exam they are very comfortable and prepared," he stated.
With a strong passion for the subject, the specialist noted: "I don't accept 80 per cent from my students, to me it is a 100 per cent system. What about the other 20 per cent? Why can't they pass it? If my students do a test and get one wrong, I have to find out why and go through it with them until they get it correct."
Shaw said he did not subscribe to the notion that boys learn differently from girls. He said in his experience, the only difference he found in their learning ability is that girls tend to be more driven and apply themselves early to what they are doing, while boys usually wait until the last minute and then try to cram everything.
"I don't find any difference in the learning capacity between boys and girls. Once they apply themselves equally, the results are usually the same," he said.
Shaw also encouraged students to sit CSEC mathematics from fourth form, when they have more time to focus on that one subject.
To help the students he is not able to reach, since the late 1990s Shaw has produced a number of teaching materials, applying his own unique method to make mathematics easy.
Aptly titled 'Mathematics The Easy Way', so far he has published four books in the series, three with accompanying interactive DVDs. They include: 'CXC Mathematics The Easy Way' - Multiple Choice - specimen exams and worked solutions for paper one exams along with an interactive expert DVD video solutions and 'CXC Mathematics The Easy Way' - worked solutions to past paper questions along with an expert CSEC 2012 Exams DVD video solutions.
The other two are 'CXC Principles of Accounts The Easy Way' - worked solutions to past paper questions and 'CAPE Mathematics The Easy Way' - worked solutions to past paper questions June 1999-2011, with an expert June 2012 Exams video solutions DVD.
"I decided to include the interactive DVDs with the books because I did an experiment once, recording a DVD of a lesson for a student, explaining step by step what is to be done. He immediately grasps it after watching the video. Since I started recording the lessons I have found that the students respond to it more," noted Shaw.
The books with DVDs retail from $1,500 to $2,500 and are available in bookstores islandwide.