Home / FT View/ Managing math

Managing math


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 20 September 2017 00:00


Forty-two schools have been selected by the Government to participate in a pilot program that aims to allow students who have failed mathematics at Ordinary Level to continue their education. If successful the programme may be widened to include schools countrywide but it still does not adequately address why so many students fail math in the first place. 

Sri Lanka needs to find an equitable solution for teaching maths and preventing large numbers of failures that have topped 40% in previous years. The low quality of math instruction in Sri Lanka’s schools, a decades-long battle over how math should be taught, and the general belief among educators that math is only important for some to learn, are partly is to blame for this problem, say experts. 

Despite Sri Lanka’s illiteracy levels being low, it is questionable just how high reading abilities are and whether they give students the ability to think through abstract concepts, as well as handle basic computations and spatial concepts. Math is a critical element in even high-skilled blue-collar jobs; welders, for example, need trigonometry skills for sophisticated metal work. Young men and women with strong math skills will likely end up in jobs that have high salaries.

More importantly, math plays a critical role in understanding abstract concepts that often come up in business and economics. As with so much of Sri Lanka’s education crisis, the problem lies with teaching and curriculum. The highly-skilled math students who could become teachers aren’t likely to join a profession in which performance-based pay is eschewed for degree- and seniority-based compensation; with prized skills, they earn more and gain greater job satisfaction in, say, the tech sector. This leaves the nation’s classrooms to be staffed by aspiring teachers who are not as likely to have strong competency in math and even less likely to be well trained to do so. 

The fact that many teachers and principals think of math as something that only some kids can learn – even though the rigours of reading instruction are just as difficult to master – also hampers efforts at math instruction. Montessori teachers, for example, ignore the need to show kids that numbers represent quantities. As a result, kids fall behind early and often. But solving the nation’s math problem may require tackling the leading symptom of the nation’s education crisis: increasing high quality literacy and reading comprehension. 

The very skills involved in reading (including understanding abstract concepts) are also involved in more-complex mathematics including word problems and algebra. International studies have shown poor readers tend to do poorly in math. As with reading, it will be up to parents, relatives and other adults to start their own math classes and teach kids multiplication and algebra themselves. Ask some tough questions of schools about what they are being taught. 

Tuition classes are often the solution in Sri Lanka but the high number of failing students suggests this is not a successful route. It would also be interesting to further examine the backgrounds of the 112,978 students out of the 264,177 in 2014 that failed math and then compare them with those that did not. 

Charities in Sri Lanka also provide ‘math libraries’ to schools so children can have new and fun ways to learn the subject. Perhaps they need to become standard and math teachers given regular opportunities to upgrade their teaching skills. Math is a critical talent for the future workforce and therefore indispensable. Poor math could eventually result in a poor country.


Share This Article


DISCLAIMER:

1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.

COMMENTS

Today's Columnists

In the desert of Tamil films, actor Sivaji Ganesan was an oasis

Saturday, 22 September 2018

‘Indian Film,’ first published in 1963 and co-authored by former Columbia University Professor Erik Barnouw and his student Dr. Subrahmanyam Krishnaswamy, is considered a seminal study of the evolution and growth of Indian cinema. The book is cit


Imran may turn blind eye to blasphemy law and persecution of Ahmadiyyas

Saturday, 22 September 2018

There are clear signs that Pakistan’s freshly minted Prime Minister, Imran Khan, will make a sincere effort to reduce corruption and maladministration in the domestic sphere. In foreign affairs he is likely to make a brave attempt to mend fences wi


The rate of exchange, capital flight and the Central Bank

Friday, 21 September 2018

The Central Bank (CBSL) exists for the sole purpose of price stability. Its controls on the financial system and monetary policy exist to maintain price stability. As put forth many times by the Governor, the failing of the CBSL to control inflation


Red flag over the Sri Lankan Navy

Friday, 21 September 2018

Shocking story Rusiripala, a former banker in Sri Lanka, who has taken to writing in Daily FT, is perturbed by the red flag I have raised (Daily FT article 18 September) over the shocking charge that our Navy had operated a ransom gang that had abduc


Columnists More