18 February 2013

Uganda: Maths Is Significant in Our Lives

Imagine going to the market and paying to buy food with a sh5,000 note. You wait for your balance but have no idea how much it should be. This sounds like a child in nursery school with little understanding of counting. This is also about the time children start to see money and are excited about handling it but have no idea about mathematics.

Mathematics is the one skill everyone needs to master. You will at least be able to live without being cheated or robbed. We need mathematics in our everyday lives. Just doing the basic essentials is dependent on your ability to do mathematics.

In school, mathematics helps students understand other subjects better. When a student excels in mathematics, other subjects automatically become easier. But, there are shocking revelations with our education system in regard to mathematics. With the release of Senior Four and Primary Seven results recently, mathematics remains one of the worst done subjects.

This has been the same trend for the last decade.

Of the 261,460 students who sat for mathematics in Senior Four last year only 2.2% got distinctions and 60.8% got credits. The others got passes, on top of others who failed. But there was a slight improvement in the percentages of students who passed with distinctions and passes in 2012, compared to the previous year.

Numerical skills will always be relevant and yet some people believe it is only useful to scientists.

Many people still face difficulty in dealing with numbers. These include difficulty in counting votes, failure to calculate menstrual cycles, failure to do proper accounting and failure to keep time.

Some shop attendants still use rudimentary techniques like counting sticks to calculate their sales. Although one can avoid simple mathematics in school, numbers will always knock at one's door because of its role of counting in our everyday life.

Fagil Mandy, an education consultant and Uganda National Examination Board, says mathematics is a subject of life because life lives on calculation.

"You calculate how much to eat, sleep, and do other things in life. All this is mathematics," he says.

He further explains that the poor performance in mathematics is due to the little application of the subject in the classroom as well as outside.

Innocent Ndikubwayo, the coordinator of Uganda Mathematics Society, emphasises the relevance of mathematics in everyday life from how much salt is put in one's food, to budgeting how to live on a meagre salary.

Brian Mutiga, a mathematics teacher at Old Kampala Secondary School describes mathematics as a language of scientists, though he is quick to add that every aspect of life has mathematics in it.

Mathematics is a compulsory subject from primary school to O'level. It is now becoming compulsory at A'level for whoever offers economics. Mutiga blames the poor performance in on common hearsay that the subject is hard. He adds that group work can help students perform better. Mutiga says the performance can also be improved by availing textbooks to students and rewarding them for their performance.

Mutiga came to like mathematics because of his close relatives who had done courses involving the subject. "When I was young I used to wonder how a building structure is put up. I also used to watch television and wonder how people entered the screen," he adds. Mutiga says his uncle advised him to do mathematics so that he would have all the answers to such questions.

Timothy Ahumuza, a student of qualitative economics at Makerere University student and a participant in the International Mathematics Olympiad in Argentina, says students fail mathematics, because of bad teaching.

"Some teachers assume that students understand the same way they comprehend the topics," he explains.

Most teachers suggest revision on a daily basis is vital such that by the end of term, several concepts are grasped.

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