New Era (Windhoek)

3 April 2009

Namibia: Mathematics in Our Schools

opinion

MATHEMATICS is a subject which is not only useful in schools, but is also utilized in our daily life activities.

This means that everyone uses some kind of mathematics in one way or another in their lives. We all therefore need a certain degree of numerical literacy to "balance the equation of life".

In order to discover the truth and reality behind this contention, we need not to look further than our own "Tatekulus" and "Memekulus" (grandparents) and let alone our contemporaries who rarely make mistakes when it comes to making change in shops, at the markets or from the taxi/cab drivers and local vendors.

Needless to say, mathematics problems involving estimates, comparisons, measurements, percentages, averages, fractions and probabilities are solved every day usually without conventional calculations or use of technology, or knowing that you are engaging in mathematics problem solving. A good example is the number of days in a week, and/or number of 10-cent coins in one Namibia dollar coin.

The predicament that faces the mathematics teachers is the perception that "Mathematics is difficult" which is held even by children at primary school level, while girls have also been programmed to believe that mathematics is a "male subject".

In this paper, I would like to underscore the learners' attitudes towards mathematics in relation to other school subjects which are taught in Namibian schools, with particular reference to the Omusati Education Region.

For a patent understanding, attitudes towards mathematics refer to the way learners feel or think about mathematics as a subject.

Attitudes towards mathematics can be due to a number of factors including, inter alia, preconceptions about self and others, resources, teaching and learning strategies, social and cultural influences and/or the school environment per se (Stephanus 2008).

It is in this context that learners who do not study mathematics seem to behave like they have nothing to do with the subject, and would never ask any mathematics related question or use mathematics in their life. Yet, they are taught other subjects such as development studies, agricultural science, business

management/studies, geography or accounting/economics which contain many calculations.

In fact, these students seem not to realize that mathematics is only one member of the family of school subjects which are closely linked and should be thought of and taken as such.

Calculations of distance, speed, time, velocity, averages, area and volume are all done in physical science as well as in mathematics, whereas areas, volumes and density are fairly covered in biology.

Simple topics (concepts) like addition, estimations and conversions, fractions, percentages, ratios, lower and upper bounds, line graphs, pie charts, bar graphs, pictographs and histograms, data handling and money and finance are all covered not only in mathematics but also in geography, business and development studies, history, physical science, agriculture and biology.

In addition, familiar topics like scale drawings and bearings (angles), measurements and frequency tables are a common feature in mathematics, geography, as well as in history, whilst conversion units are common features in agriculture and biology.

The topic commercial arithmetic in Grades 8 to 12 involves calculations of water, electricity and telephone bills, salary and wages, discounts and commission/interest rates, transport costs, rental fees, hire purchases and lay-buys.

If one peruses through the syllabus for business studies, development studies and/ or environmental studies, many of these topics will be found showing that mathematics is used in almost all of our school subjects.

English and our African languages, namely Oshindonga, Oshikwanyama, Otjiherero, etc. are no exception by any means (as every subject teacher is expected to work out percentages and averages as they assess and evaluate their learners' written work).

By looking at the interrelations of the school subjects as indicated earlier in this paper, I feel all stakeholders need to encourage our learners to study mathematics because of its usefulness in learning other school subjects. Mathematics is, in fact, easier than other school subjects, as long as the foundation is in place or laid firmly from lower grades.

The unfortunate situation is that mathematics appears to be taught with too little emphasis on real contexts and practical (local) examples at the lower stages, where the child needs a stable numerical background in preparation for both the Junior and Senior Secondary School work. This in essence makes it more difficult for the Secondary School teachers who are handed the huge task of exorcising the learners of the fear of mathematics.

From my own experiences as a former mathematics teacher (I spent a brief stint in high schools) the mammoth predicament I noted was the poor and lack of learner career guidance by parents and teachers.

Teachers in most cases observably tended to overstress the significance of one subject, and overlooked the fact that that particular subject must be passed alongside with other school subjects in order for the learners to be a fully-baked school leaver.

For most parents, their inadequacy in this regard is mainly due to ignorance for which they stand to be excused. Let alone, knowledgeable parents (perhaps with mathematics background) appear not to be doing enough to encourage their children to pursue mathematics studies. It should however be pointed out that the world we are living in is very dynamic and one cannot run away from technology, whose basis is mathematics.

It is therefore incumbent upon every learner in Namibia to resolve and determine to succeed in mathematics by adopting a positive attitude towards mathematics.

To this end, our children/learners need to be properly informed that mathematics is the backbone of all other school subjects and worth pursuing right from the lower grades. More also, it must be borne in mind that there is no magic about passing mathematics and that mathematics is for everyone.

In conclusion, it should be emphasized that mathematics is important in everyday life, in learning other school subjects and in industry.

It provides a powerful, concise and unambiguous means of communicating, and is a means of explaining and predicting and developing logical thinking in the learners. So, "let's all board the mathematics boat while navigating with other school subjects".

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