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Maths: The subject we love to hate

By Vision Reporter

Added 23rd June 2009 03:00 AM

SHE enjoys all subjects, but mathematics. That is why Martha does not pay attention during math lessons. “I hate mathematics,” she says. It is not surprising that her math grades are low.

SHE enjoys all subjects, but mathematics. That is why Martha does not pay attention during math lessons. “I hate mathematics,” she says. It is not surprising that her math grades are low.

Out of the 268,210 A’level candidates who sat exams between 2001 and 2008, 6.3% failed (scored F in) math

By Stephen Ssenkaaba

SHE enjoys all subjects, but mathematics. That is why Martha does not pay attention during math lessons. “I hate mathematics,” she says. It is not surprising that her math grades are low.

There is a widespread fear and dislike for maths among students. This attitude is probably responsible for much of the failure in the subject.

The Uganda National Examination Board (UNEB) results over the last eight years at primary and secondary school levels attest to the low performance in math.

Out of 268,210 A’level candidates who sat exams between 2001 and 2008, only 1.9% passed with a distinction (A). Up to 6.3% failed (scored F). The majority (35%) scored one point (O). Out of about 3.2 million O’level candidates who sat exams in the same period, an average of 0.6% passed in Division One, while 20% failed (scored F9). The majority (25%) scored Pass Eight.

A hard subject

There is a belief that math is hard. This though, depends on an individual’s attitude.
A mini schools survey revealed that students who had friendly teachers and exposure to textbooks were more likely to enjoy math, practise it more and perform well.

“I used to find math hard, but my teacher was always helpful. She encouraged me a lot. I am now improving,” says Jackie Mutoni, a student at Bright High School in Busega. Many students said their teacher’s approach determined their attitude towards the subject.

“My primary school math teacher beat us whenever we failed. She said we were stupid and would never pass the subject,” says seka of Mugwanya Summit College. “I have since hated the subject.”

“I cannot forget Friday afternoons when Kiko, our math teacher, returned our weekly test results. He spent the entire afternoon caning us. I hated math and the teacher. I stopped reading the subject,” he says. Eventually, Seka failed his UNEB exams.

“Negative comments from teachers and parents about math inhibit learners’ ability to enjoy and pass the subject,” says Annette Kirabira, a counsellor.

She says other than being harsh to students, teachers and parents should use rewards and affirmation to stimulate students’ interest in math.

Poor teaching methods are also to blame. “Math is taught in an abstract style. Failure by teachers to relate the subject to students’ daily lives makes it complicated for the youngsters,” says William Oker, a math teacher at Mt. St. Mary’s College Namagunga.

Jasper Okello, a mathematics teacher at Nabisunsa Girls’ School, says teachers sometimes do not have the necessary equipment to enable practical teaching.
Prof. Paul Mugambi, the patron of Uganda Mathematical Society (UMS), says teaching conditions and training for math teachers need to be improved.

The Government is addressing the challenges. “We have recruited more science and math teachers in schools at both primary and secondary levels,” says Robinson Nsumba Lyazi, the acting commissioner for secondary education in charge of private schools.

“We have also established initiatives like the Secondary Science and Mathematics Teachers Programme to enhance the quality of teaching of science and math through in-service education training for science and math teachers.
But stakeholders are not contented. “As the Government talks about developing science and technology, math remains on the periphery,” says Dr. John Mango, the chairperson of UMS.

Mango says mathematicians have sometimes not been consulted in designing programmes relating to the development of the subject, yet it forms the basis for other sciences.

In a country that aims at bringing science and technology at the heart of its development, a lot of work needs to be done.

HOW TO DEAL WITH PHOBIA

By Jamesa Wagwau

The fear of mathematics is triggered off by unpleasant experiences in relation to the subject. To many, the fear is rooted in early childhood and if not corrected, might remain for life.

Like any other subject, your perception of mathematics is largely dependent on the way it is taught or was taught at some point. Tips on how to deal with the fear:
  • There is no particular brain type which makes one person better than another at math. The most important factor is self-confidence. Think positively and believe in your ability

  • Your attitude determines your altitude. You cannot change the way you perform in math until you change the way you think. Every subject will be what you believe it to be

  • Ask questions and do not just be contented with cramming; understand the concept that underlies every formula

  • Tap the power that lies in discussion groups. Your fellow students have a language and style of simplifying even the most complex concepts. Utilise discussion groups and do not feel shy to ask for clarification

  • Practice makes perfect. Be an active learner and take charge of your own learning even out of class. The more problems you work out on your own, the more comfortable you will be during exams. Persistence always pays off when it comes to math

  • Resist the temptation to compare your abilities against those of your classmates. There is no competition in learning math

  • Some of the most powerful lessons are learnt from mistakes. Do not fear to make mistakes

  • Every formula is made of small parts, skills, concepts and steps to be followed. Do not struggle to understand complex formulae as a block.


  • Break it down to little manageable parts to ease your understanding. Everybody — both girls and boys — can excel in math. Self-confidence and attitude makes all the difference.

    The writer is a counsellor


    Maths: The subject we love to hate

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