Maths crisis looms as trainee teachers shun subject
A study conducted last year to evaluate the attitudes of pre-service early childhood teachers towards mathematics has found that a large number of them have no interest in tutoring the subject.
The finding has triggered alarm bells in the education sector amid below-par outcomes in maths from the early childhood to teen years.
Corey Williamson, a mathematics instructor at Shortwood Teachers’ College, who spearheaded the research with his colleague, Shaneille Samuels, said that although 76 per cent of the 144 teachers who participated in the study displayed “a very positive attitude towards mathematics”, they had an aversion to tutelage in the future.
“A concerning number of Jamaican pre-service early childhood teachers presently do not want to teach mathematics when they go out there in the system, and this has some implications for the teacher-training institutions if we do have persons ... who are saying they do not want to go and teach mathematics,” Williamson said on Wednesday, day two of a virtual Jamaica Teachers’ Association Conference.
“We do have some work to do especially in light of the fact that we are presently in a crisis.”
During his presentation on the research findings titled ‘Pre-service Early Childhood Teachers’ Attitude Towards Mathematics: A Jamaican Enquiry’, Williamson said that the views were gleaned from teachers from all four year groups at teachers’ colleges islandwide.
The study revealed that 45 per cent of the teachers in year one and 28 per cent from year two said that they would not be giving instruction in mathematics in the future. Forty-two per cent in year three expressed similar sentiments, while 30 per cent of the year four cohort held that view.
However, according to Williamson, the figure was more significant in the context of analysis that a further 30 per cent of teachers in year four were also undecided about teaching mathematics in the future.
“So if you put the undecided and those who don’t want to go and teach it, that’s about 60 per cent, and that is a little bit concerning,” Williamson added.
Stressing the negative impact of teachers’ attitude on mathematics outcomes, he said work would have to be done to influence behaviour change among the final-year cohort.
Williamson was, however, pleased that almost 100 per cent of participants found the subject useful.
The trainee teachers scored 65 per cent, 60 per cent, and 69 per cent, respectively, on motivation, anxiety, and confidence in the subject.
The study also sought to ascertain if there were significant attitudinal differences towards the subject among teachers from different year groups.
According to Williamson, several studies have suggested a causal link between teachers’ attitudes towards mathematics and student outcomes.
“Many elementary pre-service teachers have negative experiences regarding learning mathematics and many of them carry these prior negative experiences with them, not just at the high school level, but even at the college level,” Williamson said.