Letter Of The Day | Wrong Approach To Teaching Mathematics

Publication Date: 
Friday, January 31, 2020


Karl Samuda, the minister overseeing the education portfolio, said recently that he was disappointed by – but not surprised at, the poor performance of the nation’s children in mathematics. He seemed to imply that the reason for this was linked to the lack of effort by the children because they didn’t like the subject.

I submit that the main reason for this poor performance is that the foundation in mathematics is not strong enough. With an overloaded curriculum, children are rushed to learn new topics when they haven’t mastered the basics. They don’t learn the number bonds and are still counting on their fingers in grade six and above.

In some countries where children excel in mathematics, the teacher doesn’t move on to a new topic until all the children in the class have mastered the current topic.

Children’s dislike for mathematics has many causes. One is that they are in competition with each other and feel bad when they don’t perform to the required standard. However, poor performance by children is in part a reflection of how they have been taught.

Another reason is that if they don’t understand a topic, there is no time to reteach, so the child develops a mental block to that topic. In addition, they are taught the abstract without being taught the concrete. ‘Problems’ are taught after addition, subtraction, etc., although facing a problem first would make the subject more meaningful. The problems should also be sensible, unlike some we find in workbooks, such as finding the diameter of a swimming pool with a circumference of 4 km. (Round the Mona Reservoir is only 2.6 km!)

Teachers must also be frustrated when they don’t have adequate time to teach topics in mathematics. The curriculum is so structured that every hour of teaching has an assignment. No time is allowed for revision or even testing. Thus, extra lessons after school are the norm.

By the time the children reach grade five, they also have ‘early work’ and Saturday classes. Children are often at school from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and then have homework to do also.

Many topics in the primary school curriculum could be omitted, as they are taught again in high school. Space doesn’t allow me to list them here, but suffice it to say that the math curriculum for grades four, five and six covers a total of 440 pages. Mr Samuda could do well to familiarise himself with it.


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