Even though Mathematics undoubtedly has universal applications to life and is an essential tool in science, technology, economics, business, commerce and of course in computer design and functioning there is a general tendency for people to shy away from it for various reasons-some feel it is too difficult while others do not see its practical connection to everyday life.
Consequently, we find just a small number of people who pursue this fascinating subject and the end result is that there is always only a small core of brilliant or good mathematicians which helps to reinforce the perception that this area of study is only reserved for an elitist few.
Mathematician T. Rogers in one of his lectures notes: “The percentage of the world’s population, or even of the world’s university-educated population, who could accurately state a single mathematical theorem proved in the last fifty years is small, and smaller still if Fermat’s last theorem is excluded. If you ask a mathematician to explain what he or she works on, you will usually be met with a sheepish grin and told that it is not possible to do so in a short time. If you ask whether this mysteriously complicated work has practical applications (and we all get asked this from time to time), then there are various typical responses, none of them immediately impressive.”
But maybe this perception is bolstered by the manner in which mathematics is taught and that is, it is done in too much of an abstraction and perhaps if our teachers could help students to see how these “abstract concepts” are related or could be applied to real and practical situations then probably this perception could be dispelled or reduced. In short if could successfully convince the young minds of the importance of mathematics to life.
Students of the natural sciences quickly realise the importance of mathematics because the areas of study integrally connected and so they grasp its practical importance, unlike their colleagues in the fields of the arts and social sciences.
However, to achieve this objective, teachers of mathematics need not only to be good mathematicians but must also possess good pedagogical skills as well because teaching this subject is a special task and not like many of the other subjects in the school curriculum.
Mathematics educators Deborah Loewenberg Ball, Heather C. Hill, and Hyman notes Bass: “Knowing mathematics for teaching demands a kind of depth and detail
that goes well beyond what is needed to carry out the algorithm reliably.”
In Guyana performance by students in mathematics at examinations has been of concern by educators because it has not been up to scratch even though in recent years it has been improving appreciably.
On this score the recent emergency training for mathematics teachers conducted by the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD) is a wise step and this should be carried on a continuous basis so as to help mathematics teachers keep abreast with new innovations and methodologies of teaching the subject.
This is part of the institution’s response to the poor performance at this year’s Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) tests.
The training, a one week workshop, involving teachers from across the regions, is the second in a series of five, with the next scheduled for February, 2010.
Mathematics Curriculum Specialist, Mr. Joseph McKenzie, one of four facilitators for the Mathematics Workshop, stated that the aim of the undertaking is to have teachers upgraded with the expectation that they will pass along their knowledge to the students.
“The teachers are from schools where students obtained 10 per cent or less in the CSEC examinations. If we can raise the skills of the teachers who are delivering the curriculum, we can raise the performance of the students at the CSEC exams,” he said.
Mr. McKenzie explained that the methodology used for the upgrading process will see the facilitators taking the teachers through exercises that would be worked in class so that the teachers can be introduced to new strategies of delivering material.
He is correct and this is the path training courses for our teachers need to take. They have to get to get down to the “nitty gritty” of the situation and design training programmes to deal with the realities of the classrooms and not some fanciful theory or theories which is set in a foreign location and is therefore is totally divorced from the local realities.