Mathematics is both the study of patterns and relationships that exist in the world around us, and the language used to describe those patterns. It is important that we speak it with some fluency. Yet, the average Jamaican holds the firm belief that Mathematics is only for “bright” people. Many a parent has comforted an underperforming child with the phrase “Neva mine. . . mi did fail maths to”.
It is time to break the cycle! It is time to remove the negative stigma unfairly attached to mathematics, instilling fear in the hearts of Jamaican children from Negril to Morant Point. “But how exactly do we do that?”, you may well ask. There is no easy answer to that question, no magic bullet. Educators wrestle with it in classrooms across the world. One thing is clear. It will take hard work and radical change to the way mathematics is taught and learned.
I have identified three key challenges related to the teaching and learning of mathematics in Jamaican classrooms. The first of these was mentioned in my introduction:
- Children are indoctrinated with a mindset of “I can’t do Math”.
- Children’s experience of mathematics is far removed from the pattern-based meaning-making that ought to characterize the subject. Rather, tasks are routinized into meaningless algorithms which children are expected to memorize and apply without knowing why.
- Many primary and high school mathematics teachers struggle with the subject themselves.
In response to these challenges I recommend 4 initial strategies:
- Re-vamp the way mathematics education is attended to in teacher preparation programs for educators from pre-kindergarten to grade 6.
- Design and implement effective professional development programmes for novice and veteran mathematics teachers. (Hint: this does not involve one-day workshops once per year, but is instead sustained, coherent and content focused, and features active, collaborative learning.
- Implement instructional coaching by competent peers.
- Make meaningful mathematics accessible to children through video and other platforms.
More on these strategies in future postings.
In the meantime what can you do? Intentionally reframe your narrative about mathematics. Hold back from denigrating the subject. Instead, in the interest of promoting mathematics success for the island’s children, smash math myths that deny access to any child because (as I said when I started), every child can learn mathematics and every child must!
Margaret Campbell is an Advisory Board member of Reggae Math Foundation, the Principal of St. George's College, an all-boys' high school in Jamaica, Hubert Humphrey Fellow (Fulbright Fellowship), and a member of the National Mathematics Advisory Committee, Jamaica.