Guyana needs a revolution in how Maths is taught

first_imgIt was the famous astronomer Galileo who once said, “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe. Clearly, the system of teaching Maths in Guyana is failing when, in 2018, some 62% of our students failed the National Grade Six Assessment popularly known as the Common Entrance Exams. As the Graph reveals, this is not a today problem; this problem has been haunting us for generations. If one were to analyse the available statistics from the last decade, one would see there never had been a year in which more than 50% of our students passed Maths at Common Entrance. This is a national development tragedy.One has only to evaluate the CSEC (formerly called O’ Levels) pass rate at Maths over the last 25-plus years to get confirmation of the thesis that “what begins badly usually ends up worse”. Almost 61 per cent of these 5th formers failed Maths in 2017, and that includes failing to secure either Grades I, II or III. If you exclude what I consider a “barely pass” (Grade III), the fail rate at CSEC for these 15-year-olds in 2017 is more like 85%. This situation clearly reveals that the education system in Guyana is unfit for that purpose if it is incapable of equipping more than 15% of the school leavers with a Maths competency that is high enough to help them to operating in a modern society.As the headline of this article intones, Guyana needs a revolution in how Maths is taught if we are ever to effectively compete internationally and unleash our true potential. As the elders once told me, “Turtle can’t walk if he nah push he head outa he shell”. The policymakers in the Ministry of Education cannot continue to implement more of the same old policy and expect a different outcome. What truly matters is the establishment of a system of education which better serves the critical mass of the students, not only the top 5% who would have done well even if Guyana were at war with Venezuela.I remember that even in the bad old Burnham days, when there was no school text, some of us — like me — were lucky enough to have the textbooks imported for us from Trinidad, and we had the luxury of private lessons at the homes of expert Maths teachers. It mattered not what was taught in school, we were going to pass Maths, Further Maths, Additional Maths, and any other Maths that was on offer by the examining bodies.Nothing has changed for the top 5% today, because those students operate outside of the system. They do not need the system, but those who need the system are the ones who are being underserved, because the system of education is failing them.Guyana would easily find itself lagging far behind the rest of the world, especially the Asian countries, in Maths, and this is where we continue to lose our competitive advantage. The problem is that the way we teach Math in Guyana is largely wrong.At its heart, Maths is the world’s most successful system of problem-solving, and it should not be taught by ROTE. The point is: There needs to be enough trained teachers who can share the skill set at how Maths frames a problem, defines the question, translates it into mathematical formulation, uses a calculation to compute the answer in Maths-speak, and then translates it back to a common sense answer. This is clearly what is missing in Guyana.In Singapore, for example, Maths teachers have to go through 5 years of rigorous training before being able to teach in the public school. Of course, they are rewarded for this investment with great salaries. In Guyana, we treat our teachers like class cleaners, rather than moulders of minds.Specialised teachers who teach special subjects like Maths must be trained well and paid as specialists, if we are to move the nation forward. Why? A Maths teacher is passing on knowledge to students to make them real-life solutions’ engineers who can deconstruct big problems and reconstruct simple solutions; that is human development to which no government can attach a price.A one-size-fits-all approach to all subjects is unlikely to improve Guyana’s competitive advantage in the world. There must be a special place for subjects like Mathematics. Worse still, if the Granger Administration continues to disrespect the most important asset in the education system, as it is doing in 2018 (the teachers), then we must understand that the policymakers are undermining a core tool that is needed to allow Guyana to punch above its weight class in the world. Can we afford such irrationality as a nation?last_img

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