MANY people think mathematics is a difficult subject to study and understand and in the course, fear it and with a number only deciding to hate it.
However, there are a few who like the subject and would even decide to have fun with it. The good thing is that it is a very useful subject because of its ‘utilitarian nature’ especially in Science and Technology. A lot of people talk about mathematics but very few do dare to solve its puzzles.
You will hear members of the public complaining about poor mathematics’ performance and even blame teachers and the ministry responsible for education for not taking appropriate measures to help their kids excel in it.
Mathematics taught in the classroom should set the pace in the right direction, if we want to achieve better results in terms of performance and application in related fields. Here, we are more concerned with the ways in which our pupils learn, and organised in the teaching of the subject, and the teaching aids available to the teachers.
One of the first essentials is that everyone concerned (teachers and pupils) should so enjoy the subject’s lessons and have interest and curiosity in the subject. They also need to extend it beyond the classroom so that pupils get the opportunity to observe and appreciate the beauty of mathematics in nature and patterns they encounter in their daily life.
This can only happen when they are able to work with confidence, feeling secure in their ability to understand the ideas and methods used. It is important for the teacher to guard against demanding too much too soon and we often see how preschool teachers rush to teach children to write numbers before they are ready for it.
A teacher should also remember that in learning mathematics, the pupils should at first wholly be absorbed in it with new ideas, and discover new rules in it. Many teachers jump into conclusions too early and in turn force some pupils to fail and keep the pace and lose concentration.
Acceptability should determine the choice of presentation rather than the consistency of the development. If a pupil is to like a subject at school, it must hold or create interest and the interest mentioned here is not superficial or ephemeral, but one which is strong enough to call forth considerable perseverance from the pupil and the determination to master tasks which are not immediately seen to be rewarding.
In mathematics pupils interest is sustained if the subject matter is not too easy or too difficult. The work they do with respect to the subject should be relevant to their present life. In order to create interest in mathematics, the pupils should be notified that they are making progress.
They must experience success which brings added confidence and hence lead to greater effectiveness. In a pre-pi day quiz conducted at the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE) in 2008 and sponsored by Tanzania Standard (Newspapers) Limited, Kassim Samji of Azania Secondary School who emerged 1st winner said after receiving his prize, “I, Kassim Samji as I am student, I am better at mathematics than in other subjects, because of the efforts of my teacher and my other students.
My mathematics teacher Ms Mabano, gives me the techniques of how to solve and tackle mathematics problems. My math teacher provides me with some past mathematics’ papers and guides me in solving them.
On the other hand, my fellow students help me to perform well in my mathematics exams because whenever I need help, they help me to solve the problem by exchanging our ideas and opinions. So from the above reasons, I can say that without the mathematics teacher and my fellow students, I could not perform well in mathematics because they are beneficial to me.
In addition to that, my IQ helps in promoting my good performance.” It helps to learn and make good use of the interest of our pupils and to encourage them to ask questions by letting them see that their questions are always taken seriously.
The question that begins “what happens if…” should be used as often as possible to promote thinking and should never be ignored. Let them realise that besides the utilitarian and social values, mathematics can give some of them early experience of intellectual pleasure.
Mathematics can also give the pupils the experience to handle things with interest, and let their minds play on it and discover new and unexpected interest. If this lovely attitude to mathematics is to be achieved, the teacher must have a genuine interest in what he/she is teaching.
Flexibility, both in the choice of topic and in the method of presentations is essential. Rigid class teaching, with the teacher giving out all the necessary facts and methods and the class silently, accept their role of learning and practicing without question is outdated.
Today, we have a shift of paradigm where pupils’ interest and learning experience are emphasised. Mathematics teachers and their supporters have an association called Mathematics Association of Tanzania (MAT/ CHAHITA) which brings them together to share experiences regarding their interest in mathematics.
The association was formed in 1966 when mathematics teachers held a conference on teaching mathematics in Tanzania. Two major activities which the association conducts to create interest among students are Students’ Mathematics Research Competition and Mathematics Contest, where emerging winners are awarded prizes.
The pi-day celebration held every 14th March has been used to enable pupils and the general public to help in achieving the goal. The event started in 2004 at the Tanzania Institute of Education and has recently moved to Mnazi Mmoja grounds for more publicity.
The intention is to have it in all schools across the country. Some schools, for example, Bunju Secondary School in Kinondoni District, Bright Angles Secondary School in Mkuranga District and a few Mwanza schools have used the pi-day to inculcate such interest in their pupils.
Mathematical stories such as Langu Sifuri (My name Zero)’, Kipeo na Kipeuo Mahakamani (Power and Root in Court). The stories have aroused interest in primary mathematics to the extent of dramatising them. Use mathematics related songs has also helped in creating interest in learning mathematics.
Let us give children every opportunity to raise their interest in mathematics. I am sure after reading this article you will be one of those who will take positive action to promote it. Do not ignore it because you are an important actor.