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Math coordinator wants culture shift

Published:Thursday | August 15, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Jermaine Francis, Staff Reporter

The national mathematics coordinator in the education ministry is calling for a culture change in the teaching and appreciation of mathematics in the classroom.

Dr Tamika Benjamin said if steps are not taken to correct the negative perception about math and its relevance, the country would continue to perform dismally in this core subject area.

Benjamin said there was a general tradition where much is not expected from students doing math and the problem is further compounded by a culture of fear and misunderstanding that the subject is irrelevant.

"There's the general acceptance that nobody goes and says, 'I can't read' - there's a lot of shame in that - but people will proudly tell you they can't do math and they don't feel anyway about saying it either," Benjamin noted.

She said this translates to the classroom, where parents will go as far as to dissuade teachers from pressuring students to strive for better grades in mathematics.

Benjamin noted that programmes such as this year's math expo at the University of West Indies, Mona campus, needed to become more widespread as they help to show students and teachers how they can demystify mathematics and change the perception of the subject.

Delivery problem

She argued that another major problem affecting passes in the subject at both the primary and secondary level is the way the math curriculum is being delivered in the classroom.

"The extent to which the curriculum is being covered and the way in which students are being engaged in exploring the concepts, I think this is a significant part of the equation in terms of what's producing the low levels of performance," the math coordinator said.

Benjamin added that there were no quick fixes to these problems and that it would take a comprehensive approach to start seeing real change in math grades over the next five years.

She said the mathematics policy guidelines to be rolled out in September have taken into consideration these nuances and will not only target an improvement in the resources being used to teach the subject, but also the quality of those delivering math lessons in public schools.