Students With Phobia For Mathematics Can’t Really Excel – Prof Olaleru | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Students With Phobia For Mathematics Can’t Really Excel – Prof Olaleru

Posted: Jun 3, 2015 at 12:48 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Can you define the much dreaded subject called mathematics?

The subject called mathematics is difficult to define. Mathematicians don’t even agree on correct or adequate definition of the subject. But it is a body of knowledge that deals with computation of numbers to achieve some results that are useful.

As a teacher of pure mathematics, what do you think is responsible for the terror that runs through the head of students when the subject is mentioned right from the foundational classes?

Talking about the performances of students, I think we should examine the teachers themselves. First, how competent are the teachers. Secondly consider the level of motivation on the job to enable them give their best and three, do they possess the right ability to impart knowledge?

If you look at this, one of the problems we have in the learning of mathematics in secondary school are the teachers to start with. A good number of teachers that are employed to teach in secondary schools do not possess good grasp of the subject, mathematics. In a situation where a teacher lacks good grasp of the subject, there is tendency that the subject would be taught such that students would get more confused.

I could remember a teacher that taught some students for the first time in a particular area of mathematics; the students said they couldn’t understand. Another day he taught the students, they couldn’t understand, the third day he took the class again and the student said they could understood. The teacher in return told them that that was the first time he himself understood the topic.

Even in the universities, a good number of students enrolled to study mathematics if you give them problems in further mathematics they did in secondary school you will discover that they find it difficult to solve the question; yet they are already in the final year studying mathematics. The topics they will be teaching in secondary are not clearly understood by themselves. So, the issue is how would they be able to impart the knowledge?

Secondly, it is the ability of teachers to teach effectively. The fact that an individual understood mathematics does not necessarily translate to ability to impart knowledge. In civilised countries your performance in mathematics, is not sufficient for you to become a professional teacher because you must have passed through professional training and learn the methods of teaching.

But in our own schools once you understand the subject, whether you passed through teacher training education or not you are asked to teach. At the end of the day, you might be surprised that at the end of the day they understood the subject but the challenge of imparting the knowledge becomes an issue to the student.

Also, think of a situation where students who studied chemistry are asked to teach mathematics. These are some of the issues that complicate the teaching of the subject.

It is not because mathematics is difficult. I don’t share in that thought that the subject is difficult if at the foundation of education, good teachers are employed; who are well motivated with good grasp of mathematics concepts.

These are the people who impact this knowledge in children from the foundational education schools, at the end of the day; the student will derive pleasure studying mathematics than any other subject. But if the teacher are not well equipped to teach the subject this gives impression to the students that the subject too is hard to understand. This will be in the heads of the students because they will in turn develop phobia for the subject.

Considering the level of students phobia for the subject vis-à-vis the country’s drive towards production of scientists and high level human resources in the sciences, what danger does this pose to the technological development of the country?

We are in trouble if the trend continues. This is because if you talk about any discipline, you can’t really excel in any area if you don’t have some knowledge of mathematics. In the field of science those who are into research whether in chemistry, physics or in engineering, these sets of professional that can’t do without mathematics.  Some people run to biological sciences like the field of medicine thinking that they have escaped from mathematics; the whole thing is changing now because there is bio-mathematics where you have to use mathematics to study biology.

So, if the dislike for mathematics persists, by implication it means that those who are going into even the biological sciences will be limited and may not go far in their academic pursuit. Talk of economics, there is an aspect of economics that has to do with econometrics. If you have phobia for mathematics then you can’t perform well in that course. Talk of business and history the story is the same. With the way things are going, a student with phobia for mathematics can’t really excel but perform as an average student. In terms of technological development we don’t have choice because government and the institutions must do their own part to make sure that students develop the right attitude to the study of mathematics.

Another problem is that a lot of students don’t even know the importance of mathematics in the sense that it is needed just for one to become a teacher or lecturer.

As a form of further enlightenment, in what aspects of human life are mathematics theories applicable? 

In this era of development where is mathematics not applicable? Can anybody mention any area in the life of a nation where mathematics is not applicable? In areas where we don’t apply mathematics it is because people are not familiar with such areas. In the area of banking, there is an influx of people that studied mathematics to that sector because it gives them an edge. When you talk of serious and difficult computational matters you will discover that mathematics comes. The same applies to accounting; they study quantitative accounting that is mathematics. The same applies to graduates of economics. Those who go into humanities like law and think they have escaped from the subject are wrong because one of the best lawyers ever produced first studied mathematic before law. Even in the United States of America you will discover that those who studied mathematics first before crossing into law perform better. Mathematic has a way of helping individuals to sharpen the brain and think logically. Someone with mathematics background will have an edge to defend an idea logically. If you are using GSM devices and other gadgets, they are all inventions of mathematic computations.

Take for instance the bridge that collapsed in the US, at the end of the day enquiry into the incident discovered that there was an error in computation in the mathematical representation. The airplanes are also supported by mathematical computations before it becomes the physical object that flies around. Even in our daily life mathematics is applicable.

Talking about the secondary school curricular and students understanding of the subject, what is your take on the notion that teachers don’t complete syllabus before examinations?

As a matter of fact I appreciate what WAEC is doing. But it is just a matter of looking at the matter on the surface. Some of us in the 80s passed through the WAEC syllabus and were properly taught. Based on that we did the examination and passed well; by the time we got into the higher institutions we didn’t have any problem.