Apr 7, 2014

Causes of Mathematics Failures in Secondary Schools

Writing Board
I search, online, for figures relating to mathematics performance in Nigerian external examination for secondary schools. The figures are contradictory. It is generally known, however, that the level of Mathematics failure for external examinations at ordinary levels, such as West African Examination Council (WAEC), National Examination Council (NECO) …,  is often high. The figures available for 2011/12 examination show that 80% of candidates failed Mathematics that year.

The phobia for mathematics in Nigeria has succeeded in creating the impression that the subject cannot be passed. Hence a lot of students don’t come with a doggedness to pass the subject. The few that come determined to pass the subject are frustrated by administrative failures that make the implementation of the curriculum bumpy.

If students must succeed in mathematics, there are steps and conditions that are inevitable. First, there must be an inclusive curriculum, covering all the key sections necessary for building up a student with a sound mathematical foundation. Secondly, the curriculum must be implemented by an experience teacher. A teacher must meticulously keep a record of what he has taught. This is important to enable a succeeding teacher understand the starting point in his new assignment. Where a child changes school, it is wise that the parent get a record of what the child has already learnt and what has not been learnt to enable the child reconcile issues with the destination school. Then there has to be the relevant book(s).

Mathematics has extremely sensitive topics that can be seen as the pillars of the subject. If the knowledge of these topics are lacking in a student, any mathematic knowledge a teacher attempts to build in a student collapses.  It is important that the teacher covers the curriculum comprehensively to ensure the sensitive topics are not left out. From my own experience, the sensitive topics include factorization; formulae and subject of formulae; standard form; handling of mathematical signs; handling of decimals in addition/subtraction, multiplication/division. Once a child gets a grip of these sensitive topics, he could become independent in mathematics and less reliant on the teacher as a result.

Teaching a mathematic topic successfully involves the initial stage of carefully working out examples by the teacher. Then the teacher gives out exercises to enable him understand individual student’s challenges and then carries out corrections with emphasis on the areas students find difficult as reflected by the exercises. 

The next rung is the student practice, which is synonymous to rehearsal. At this stage a student must carry out as much examples of exercises as possible to enable him build a photo, of the procedures for solving the problem, in his mind. For a new topic, this can be achieved in a matter of hours, perhaps three at most. This is where the text book becomes very important as the exercises are taken from the text book with answers at a specified page of the book, for self appraisal. There is often no adequate time in the school’s time table for this. This is why it has to be done independently by the student at home or in the dormitory. At this point, the role of parents or teacher on duty, as the case may be, becomes very crucial.

When a teacher is working out examples, it is important that he touches different angles of a topic at different lessons with a week spent in handling each angle. If for instance a teacher is teaching the topic, “Changing the Subject of a Formula,” using the equation shown above, he must address making a term in the numerator a subject of the formula in one lesson and then address making a term in the denominator the subject, at a letter lesson. The one-week gap between the two lesions is to give adequate time for the practice of exercises in the class but also at home or dormitory.

The fact that results in mathematics have perennially been poor in Nigeria is an indication that these conditions are not been fulfilled. The bedrock challenge is the verity that the school appendage of the Nigerian nation has been forgotten continually. As a result there are always inadequate teachers who work mostly without supervision; teachers are always on the move in search of greener pasture, greater days within the session are lost as a result of teachers sharing their time between their jobs and sources of residual incomes elsewhere, the best brains are not always in the profession plus the neglect has given the basis for subversive actions. The result is that it is impossible to implement the delicate stages of teaching a subject that should be taught with extreme caution.

To an encouraging decree however, the conditions necessary for successes in mathematics are fulfilled in private schools. This explains why the result is often good for private schools but also why the fiscally capable prefer to educate their kids in private schools. Since bulk of parent population cannot afford private school tuitions that are constantly on the rise the results are generally poor for consecutive sessions creating a nation with a culture of mathematics phobia. 

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