Mathematic phobia pushing students away from dream careers
By Nkiruka Ezedinugwu
LAST week, I ran into a distant cousin who told me that she had lost a job opportunity in a bank twice all because she did not study either Banking and Finance or Accounting in higher institution, rather she studied Public Administration.
I became surprised because I remembered that in our secondary school days, she used to tell us that she would study Accounting or Banking and Finance. So when I asked her why she did not go for her dream course, she said that people told her that Accountancy and Banking and Finance were mathematics based, and she had lived with this impression that mathematics is very hard. So when she was filling her JAMB form, she looked for courses that she could study without encountering mathematics. That was how she landed in Public Administration. But the irony of the whole story is that she had an opportunity to go back school and the course she is presently studying is mathematics based and she is doing very well in it. She said “I just found out that there is nothing difficult about mathematics, it is just to understand the formula and follow the processes and you are good to go”.
A good number of students who took the last JAMB or are seeking for admission into universities or other higher institutions are currently being forced to apply for change of courses because they could not pass or credit mathematics in their WAEC, NECO or their equivalents. Some students who failed maths but doesn’t have maths phobia will insist on retaking the exams to pursue their dream courses but a lot of them who fear the subject are currently trouping the cybercafes to apply for change of courses instead of retaking to pass maths.
Ezekiel Chinasaokwu Chinecherem, SSS3 student in Capital City Secondary School, Awka, said, “one of the major problems we are facing in mathematics is the time the school allocated for mathematics class. To me, it will be better to make mathematics first or second lesson of the day; that is when the weather is still cool, but most times, mathematics classes are fixed in the afternoon, sometimes after break. By that time, the weather would be very hot and may not be conducive for learning calculations.
Again, because we do not have enough teachers, most times, a maths teacher might have many classes to teach in a day. As you can guess, by the time the teacher will get to the last class, he or she must have been tired and the teaching may not be so good.
Speaking on the contributing factor of Mathematics phobia in pupils, Mrs Ifeoma Eneh, a mathematics teacher said : “The major cause of mathematics phobia is this age long impression that mathematics is very difficult. So the first thing a teacher should do to help students to correct that impression is by always emphasising to them that mathematics is actually very simple. But one problem I discover in students is that they think that mathematics is not like other subjects that you can just read, you solve mathematics, not just read it and constantly solving mathematics will make a student perfect. But these days, students hardly make out time to solve mathematics. Some of them will just copy their notes and stock it in their locker without always going back to it to try and solve and master that topic.
Some of them that have the textbooks hardly open it on their own, some, when you see their textbooks when the term have gone half, you will see that the textbooks are as new as they were when they bought them. So I believe that one of the reason students develop phobia for mathematics is that the lack interest in the subject. So I encourage them to keep on solving maths and the end result is that they will get to like mathematics.
According to Anagbogu Uchenna Anthonia, JSS mathematics teacher, the major cause of mathematics phobia in children is the teaching method. In mathematics, a teacher is supposed to start from the most common aspect of the topic, that is from the known to get to the most difficult aspect which is the unknown. In addition, the teacher is supposed to bring in some form of fun into the process, this will make the children feel at ease while learning mathematics.
“Along the line also, the teacher is also supposed to always ask the students questions to know the ones they understand and the ones they do not understand. In so doing, the teacher will be carrying all the students along. Again, after treating each topic, the teacher is supposed to give assessment to ascertain their level of understanding. I am saying this because this is how I have been teaching my children and majority of them are doing well. So if the method is good, the phobia will be less.
“Another cause of phobia for mathematics is lack of textbooks – no one can do well in mathematics without text books. But I try my best to give them note and encourage them to copy their notes well so that even if you do not have text book, that note will go a long way in helping you.
“Also some of these students are not punctual and whenever they miss classes, they are probably left behind and to pick up again might be a problem. So many of them may never pick up again and that is where their dislike for mathematics begins. So I encourage my students, even if you miss class, and you still want to meet up with what was thought when you were absent from school, come to me, I will help you. So with this method, I have been able to help most of them conquer that phobia for mathematics.
Mrs Omenkwu Abigail, the assistant Headmistress, Iyiagu Primary School, Awka, said: There are many factors that have contributed to making children not liking mathematics at all or to have phobia for mathematics. I will start with the teachers in primary schools. You know that primary school teachers are meant to be teaching all subjects in a particular class. Now, you think of a teacher who did not study mathematics in higher institution, who has the duty of teaching the senior primary class. You can now imagine what the teaching will be like. Such a teacher can actually make children develop phobia for mathematics.
“Again, there is this ideology that has been there for ages among children; an ideology that has passed from one generation to another, the ideology that ‘mathematics is difficult’. When I was in secondary school for instance, we had a very strong phobia for mathematics. I was in class 4 precisely, when it was time for mathematics, you see students jumping out through the window, and we would remain only four in the class, and when the maths master comes in, he will teach and leave the class. On the exam day, everybody will be in the class because mathematics is compulsory and you see students asking me to teach them one formula or the other. Finally, it will be four of us that are always in the class for mathematics lessons that scaled through.
“Now, I can tell you that none of those students that refused to take maths lessons in my secondary school days hated maths because they tried it and it was actually difficult, No, they were just working with what they heard “Mathematics is difficult”. I can simply say that the minds of most students are biased as regards mathematics.
Again, sometimes, the methodology a teacher adopts in teaching mathematics might be wrong. Most times, some teachers might have the knowledge, but how to deliver it to the children is the problem. Also, the teachers may not just be eager to learn new methods of teaching a particular subject, especially that mathematics. I believe that there might be a methodology that a teacher might use and it will make children feel at home learning mathematics.
“More so, lack of teaching materials can also be part of a problem why children hate mathematics. You know in primary schools, we don’t use the lecture method, we use the project and other methods. The best way to teach primary school pupils is to tell them things and show them things that resemble those things in the chart. Using such charts or other teaching materials convey information faster and better into the child’s brain and it is permanent.
“So I think that if teachers learn the methodologies to convey mathematics to children, government intervenes in the area of teaching materials and conducive environment, that ideology of ‘mathematics is difficult that is championed by peer group is corrected, learning mathematics will become fun to the children.
For Mr Jovita Arazu, Principal, Igwebuike Grammar School, Awka, he said: The fear of Maths is everywhere, but when the teachers are friendly, the students will realise that maths is one of the subjects you can be sure to get 100% once you know what you’re doing there. So we have teachers that are dedicated. Some have even introduced further maths to the students so that it will help them in their mathematics and they are doing well, and the teachers we have here are carrying out their duties diligently. We employed some teachers to serve as PTA teachers in mathematics.
“It is the teacher’s approach; if the teachers have been friendly, they would have loved the subject. But some teachers always come to classes with long canes and once they ask questions and the student doesn’t get it right, the cane will land on them. But if they do it in a friendly way, these students will no longer be afraid of maths. Well, so far so good, we are trying in that.
Again, Mrs Adibe Adaora, Principal, Capital City Secondary School, Awka, said, “apart from the fact that some people do not naturally like to handle figures, as there are some people that are more comfortable with reading books, telling stories than handling figures, meaning that some people are not mathematics inclined, that is nature. Another major problem that may cause children to begin to hate mathematics is the teaching method. Teaching method can actually be a major factor here because if a maths teacher does not approach the subject in a friendly way, a child that is not inclined to mathematics can be scared away completely. For instance, when a maths teacher comes into the class with a long cane, the sight of that stick puts fear in the children and they tend to recoil. But I know that teachers who are friendlier, who try as much as possible to approach the subject in friendly manner, their students are more prone to like the subject than those who use all manner of threat to teach children.
“Again, peer pressure is also a major factor, because there is this impression that mathematics is difficult and most times children discuss this among themselves. That impression actually needs to be corrected. Children should be made to understand that mathematics is not difficult, infact that mathematics can be sweet.
“Also, if we can have incentives for children who do well in mathematics, institute prizes, you will see that many children will begin to struggle to also do well in that subject so that they can benefit from the incentives.
“Lack of textbooks is also a major factor here because no one can actually learn mathematics without textbooks. You see a child who is struggling with mathematics; tell the parents to buy textbooks and the parents will say ‘I don’t have money’. So parents should endeavor to buy textbooks for their children.
“Again, lack or shortage in teaching staff is another factor. In some schools, you can see one teacher teaching eight classes of 50 students each; that is 400 students. How well can the teacher perform? The workload on the teacher will be too much and he or she might transfer the frustration to the students and you can imagine what the outcome will be. So if we can reduce the ratio of students to teachers, it can help in curing the mathematics phobia in children.
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