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Poor CAPE maths performance affecting tertiary-level engineering programmes

Published:Sunday | August 9, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Engineering faculty members have noted that poor performance in mathematics at the sixth-form level is affecting the delivery of engineering programmes at the tertiary level.

These concerns came ahead of reports of a general decline in students' performances in mathematics-related subjects in the 2015 Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) results, which were released on Sunday by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).

According to a release from the Ministry of Education, the results reveal a 5.4 percentage point decrease in the average pass rate for combined units of pure maths and a 10.1 percentage point decline in applied maths. Geometrical and electrical engineering drawing registered a decline of 10.2 percentage points, while electrical and electronic technology saw a decline of 18 percentage points.

CXC's analysis of last year's results in these subjects points to a general trend of weak performances and the inability of students to grasp fundamental concepts.

The 2014 report on pure maths noted that "candidates continue to experience challenges with algebraic manipulation, reasoning skills, and analytical approaches to problem solving".

For electrical and electronic technology, the 2014 report lamented a continuance of weak performances as in previous years. The report attributed the weak performances to the ill preparedness of candidates in both the theoretical and practical aspects; the weak mathematics and sciences background of students; the need for training of some teachers in the delivery of the subject content; and the need for tools, machines, and equipment to be made available to support the teaching of the subject.

With regard to geometrical and electrical engineering drawing, CXC's 2014 analysis of the results pointed out that students continue to provide solutions suited for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate level.

The report also noted that computer-aided drafting-based solutions continue to pose a challenge in terms of the standard and quality of drawings.

Reacting to the findings from CXC, lecturer and director of the mechanical engineering programme at the University of Technology (UTech) Dr Kavian Cooke has pointed out that the weaknesses in mathematics at the CAPE level are reflected in students' performance at the tertiary level.




"The findings from CXC are accurate in terms of what we are seeing on campus in our engineering programme ... .When the students come over to engineering to do modules that are heavily mathematical, we find that the students struggle because they don't understand the fundamental principles," he said.

Cooke went on to explain that mathematical handicap of students affects the quality of engineers who exit the programmes each year.

"The quality of the engineer is heavily dependent on the understanding of the mathematical foundations, and if that is missing, then essentially, what you have is a technician," he said.

According to Cooke, the root cause of weakness in mathematics is related to how the subject is taught.

Professor Noel Brown, who is head of the School of Engineering at UTech, has said that the CAPE "results will have serious implications for the engineering programmes, therefore, it is important that we provide remedial training to make sure that the quality of the graduates is consistent".

He also revealed that the university would be conducting a study to look at why students are challenged with grasping mathematical concepts and will also be designing programmes to address the weak performance of students in the subject area.

Attempts to reach faculty members at the Mona School of Engineering proved unsuccessful up to press time.