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EDITORIAL - The relevance of mathematics

Published:Saturday | April 14, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The challenges facing mathematics and science education are serious enough to warrant the nation's attention. We need look no further than the Grade Four Numeracy Test where less than half of the population sitting that test attained mastery. And this is an improvement on the 2009-2010 results, we are told.

The dismal trend continues as we move up the senior levels of the education chain, with results for the secondary schools also indicating less-than-favourable performance in mathematics and science. And when these students become adults, they will, sadly, come to understand that mathematics plays an important role in the dynamics of progress and in the context of their daily realities. By then, the damage will have already been done.

Indeed, the consequences of poor mathematical competence include the inability to function efficiently in society and often account for slow career advancement.

For example, if more people understood mathematical concepts, they may not have participated in the recent Ponzi schemes which lured them in with promises of artificially high interest payments which, on close examination, turned out to be unsustainable and were destined to fail.

The dire results of the Grade Four Numeracy Test have been known for some time. But after the assessment comes the hard part - to devise new strategies to ensure improvement. In their ongoing efforts at education reform, two institutions recently hosted gatherings in Kingston where experts and teachers came together to explore the terrain of mathematics and science teaching to see how improved teaching methods and skills could facilitate better learning.

Empower students

St Joseph's Teachers' College and The Mico University College are to be commended for their initiatives, and we anticipate that the teachers will return to their classrooms armed with fresh knowledge, curriculum materials, innovative strategies and renewed commitment to empower their students to perform better.

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites declared, at one of these functions, that the country's deficiency in mathematics is at the very centre of our underdevelopment.

He also cited the cultural aversion to mathematics. Many individuals will openly admit that they were never good at math. And in an era of computers and calculators, many others will no doubt argue that they have been getting along very well without competence in mathematics. Researchers could assist our understanding of this phenomenon by identifying the underlying causes for this strong aversion to mathematics in our culture.

Early-childhood education usually begins at home, with the child learning to count and later to recite multiplication tables. But even before that, they start to build the basis for mathematical concepts as they begin to understand order and sequence and comparison.

So when did mathematics become a high-risk activity? What accounts for this resistance to math? Could it be the competence of the mathematics educators or the way in which they teach the subject? Is the anxiety in the subject itself or the way it is presented in the classroom?

Mr Thwaites has promised to provide all the necessary support to the educators in their bid to reform education. Let's begin by developing a national mathematics culture. The subject is so very important to national development and, at the personal level, it enhances prospects for future employment or higher studies. Countries like India and Pakistan have done it and are now reaping success through their enviable industrial development.

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