When maths becomes a subject from hell
The dream of 193,882 students getting into the various tertiary institutions in the country is automatically shattered as a result of their failure in the 2018 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE ) Core Mathiematics paper. Every year, we ask the same question: “What’s wrong?”
There are many views suggesting answers to the question and the majority of them seem to be shifting the blame on students. Emphatically, people suggested it was the laziness of students that resulted in their failure. However, if you’ve been analysing the data, more especially comparing them with the other nations that Ghana takes the WASSCE with, you will agree with me that the problem isn’t one we can only blame on students and then go to sleep. I find it difficult to accept that a lazy student will pass all subjects with good grades and fail in only mathematics. What we see over the years is that our students pass other subjects well and fail in mathematics. That can’t be a mark of lazy students.
Lack of interest
It is apparent that you can’t give yourself wholly to something that you don’t like or find interesting. Our students haven’t shied the truth away from us – they always tell us they don’t like mathematics. Just before writing this article, I read a tweet by a student saying “Maths is a subject straight from the gates of hell." That’s how many students see the subject. This perception about the subject already tells us what the primary cause of the problem is – students’ lack of interest in the subject. The question we need to be asking now is why our students don’t have the interest in the subject.
Recall how you were taught mathematics way back in the primary school and you’ll side with me that mathematics hasn’t been simplified in our classrooms. Every opportunity most teachers get to stand before their students to teach maths, they rather make things complex for their students. I am a teacher and I have noticed that most teachers, especially those in the basic schools, are good with the mathematical content, but deficient when it comes to delivery. Such teachers go through all difficulties to convey a simple mathematical concept to students.
Improve teaching methods
Maths will be liked by students if teachers ensure that their handling of the subject is one that causes the children to ask when next they’ll have a maths lesson. Teachers must begin to explore how to get their students’ interest in the subject aroused. When the best teaching and learning material (TLM) is combined with the right teaching method, and the concepts well demystified by making them part of the students’ daily lives, students will begin to see maths as friendly.
That aside, while we have one group having content mastery but lacking the delivery skills, there is another group with no content proficiency in the first place.
There is no way such teachers can help their students connect to the subject. There are a good number of teachers who will confide in you when it comes to mathematics that they have no idea how to go about a particular topic. It is for this reason that the School-based Instruction (SBI) was introduced for teachers to do peer teaching, but some of them will not seek help even from a colleague, let alone bring it up for discussion at SBI meetings. They, therefore, either ignore the topic or go and teach students the wrong thing.
What do we have to do? Our colleges of education (CoE) must review their training of teachers. Besides, we may have to assign teachers who have both the content and pedagogy prowess to handle only maths in our schools. A primary school can have three designated maths teachers (with refined mastery in both content and delivery) teaching the subject.
That notwithstanding, the Ministry of Education (MoE) and Ghana Education Service (GES) must begin to invest in retraining their employees (teachers) occasionally and also supply maths TLMs to the schools to make the teaching of the subject interesting.
These can, to some extent, save us the embarrassing failure we see our students record in the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and the WASSCE.