Improving performance in Maths
It is common knowledge that Mathematics is one of the poorest subjects in Guyana especially if results at the National Grade Six Assessment and the CSEC examination are taken into consideration.
The Ministry of Education has provided many reasons. Some of these reasons are paltry. The latest reason is that students do not have the necessary resources to pass the examination; hence, the implementation of an $85.7 million intervention which was highly unplanned and went against many pedagogical principles. If Minister Manickchand is really concerned about improving Mathematics then she needs to address the following issues at the secondary school level urgently.
1. Currently, a trained teacher of any discipline can be appointed a Head of Department for Mathematics. A good example is evident in one secondary school where the Head of Department can only teach Grade 7. This Head of Department is Agriculture Science trained but was appointed HOD.
This HOD is incapable of providing any instructional guidance to any of the Mathematics teachers in the Department. It is humorous that former minister Shaik Baksh had the current CEO and the former CEO (acting) as well as a former ACEO as advisors but never attempted to fix this anomaly. So widespread is this incongruity that even teachers with specialization in social studies have been appointed as HOD for English Language.
2. All schools do not complete the prescribed topics for Grades 7, 8 and 9 as outlined in the curriculum guides. As such, students enter each Grade with a deficit of topics to be completed. It is for this reason that the Grade 9 results are so atrocious. The Ministry does not monitor curriculum completion through its different supervision arms such as MERD, the Inspectorate Unit of even the various Departments of Education. Schools do not complete the topics for two reasons. Firstly, MOE says that teachers do this to get students to go to their lessons which I believe is true. Secondly, this happens because many schools do not know what should be taught at the different Grades.
While it is hard to believe, the Ministry of Education must understand that there are some teachers who cannot take the curriculum guide and generate a weekly plan of work for 40 weeks especially if the first reason is taken into consideration.
3. Extra lessons contribute to students’ failure. Students study one Math concept in school which is hard enough and then they attend lessons where they are taught a second Math concept. It is impossible for the majority of students to learn two Mathematical concepts simultaneously.
4. The Ministry of Education has been trying to ‘fix Mathematics’ without knowing what topic in the subject of Mathematics is the problem.
Fixing topics such as algebra, relation functions and graphs as well as trigonometry will significantly enhance our results. We do not need to fix topics such as measurement, sets, and number theory and computation. Training has to focus on the problem areas rather than the entire subject.
5. CPCE is a calamity. Teachers cannot be trained to teach Mathematics and their pass grade is 45 percent. This was the case up to the introduction of the Associate Degree Programme.
In the Associate Degree Programme it is 55 percent. This is still too low. Forty-five percent or 55 percent does not give a teacher enough mastery of Mathematics to stimulate learners.
Secondly, CPCE does not train potential teachers to teach CSEC or Grade 6 Mathematics. Our teachers’ training programme needs to be drafted to meet our curriculum. At CPCE there is a course called CXC Novels and Plays for English Majors.
There is no such course for Math majors. As such, each CPCE graduate enters the teaching profession in deficit.
6. The Non Graduate Certificate Course for Secondary School Teachers in Mathematics is an absolute waste of time. Its architects ought to be dismissed. I am happy to learn that one such dismissal has already happened.
This is a course designed for secondary school Math teachers, yet less than 1 percent of it is secondary school content. The course started with more than 200 trainees and only 18 graduated. This is testimony to its difficulty and it uselessness to the secondary school teachers.
7. There is no national officer for Mathematics in this country although seven out of every 10 students have failed Mathematics in the last 10 years.
So brazen was this Ministry through its CEO and DCEO that it refused to place Senior Education Officers in this post when they were appointed by the Public Service Commission which is clearly an usurpation of the Commission’s authority and autonomy.
8. The Regional Subject Committees for Mathematics meet to plan projects and set Regional Exams only. They provide no help in the delivery of the curriculum. The Ministry of Education is dependent on these committees and they are absolutely useless.
In addition, many of the Education Officers in the Regions are not Mathematics specialists and as such cannot be of any help to weak Mathematics teachers.
9. In training teachers, the Ministry of Education viewed all teachers in the same mold. This is madness. The Ministry of Education needs to offer differential training. For example, teachers who cannot teach the topic ‘circle theorem’ are invited to a session where a ‘Master-Teacher’ teaches this topic.
10. No incentive is given to students to study a difficult subject such as Mathematics. All the efforts of the Ministry have been towards weak students. Students need to be encouraged to study Mathematics.
Giving a calculator is not encouragement because the students know they will have to give back the calculator. The Mathematics Olympia needs to be reintroduced. Other initiatives need to be undertaken to promote the learning of Mathematics.
I have every belief that Minister Manickchand can fix all these problems. Her first strategy should be to establish a Mathematics Panel of past and present teachers to craft a new direction in the teaching and learning of Mathematics. The new school year is fast approaching.
Mohammed S. Hussain