Mr. Africanus Owusu Ansah should be highly commended for
publicly championing the case for the proper use of the
English Language in society (especially by the youth)
and its important role in determining the success or
otherwise of many people in careers they might want to
pursue. In one of his series (Daily Graphic of 16/07/07,
page 17) in which he talked about the importance of
English in job recruitment and admission to educational
institutions, he made mention of Mathematics as the twin
subject that plays similar important roles.
In fact, English plays such an important role in one’s
success in mathematics that many students fail
mathematics because of their poor command of the
language. Mathematics involves ideas. Being able to
verbalize correctly these ideas is one sure indicator of
one’s understanding of the ideas involved. Then, one
must be able to interpret the ideas correctly as used in
Mathematics. Interpreting correctly involves good
understanding of English. For example, what does it mean
to add, divide, find the square root, integrate,
differentiate, proof by contradiction? Which side of a
triangle is opposite a given angle? Others that follow
seem more mathematical, like representing the
interpretation symbolically and the proper manipulation
of the symbols to preserve the meanings of the original
ideas.
Not surprisingly, one of the difficult areas in
Mathematics for many students is solving word problems.
For example: Currently Kofi is thrice as old as Ama.
Three years ago, Kofi was four times as old as Ama. Find
the present ages of Kofi and Ama. To answer this
problem, you have to translate correctly from the words
that are in English to the symbolic representations
which are mathematical. As you do not know Ama’s age, it
can be represented by a variable, say **x**. Then
Kofi is thrice as old as Ama is represented by **3x**.
Three years ago means Kofi’s age would be 3x – 3 while
Ama’s age would be **x – 3**. However, at that time,
Kofi was four times as old as Ama, that is **3x – 3 =
4(x – 3)**. You can now solve for **x** (Ama’s age)
as **9** years and **3x** (Kofi’s age) as **27**
years. Notice that there is interplay between English
and the methods and principles of Mathematics to solve
this problem.
Another example: Four times two less than a number is
the same as thrice one more than the number. Find that
number. (I leave this one for readers to solve). The
interpretation you give is a matter of your command of
the English language. A wrong interpretation will lead
to a wrong symbolic representation, and therefore a
wrong solution. It is sad to see the many students who
get frustrated at this stage of their study of
mathematics.
Notice that there are a lot of parallels between English
and Mathematics. For example, a match between antonyms
and synonyms in English can be likened to a map between
elements of a domain and its co-domain while one studies
functions in Mathematics. I can go on and on citing
examples.
However, I will rather like to advise students to take
the study of English and Mathematics very seriously,
hoping that they will listen. Why the usual second world
war? Why can’t students study sufficiently and pass
their examinations at the first sitting? Any student is
capable of studying Mathematics and English and
excelling in them. The two subjects are compulsory, and
rightly so, because Mathematics ensures the efficiency
that we need for national development and we must
communicate that efficiency in a language, and for our
purposes in Ghana, the English language, as it is our
official language. We need to make students see the
relevance and the interconnectedness of the subjects
they study. We need to occupy the minds of our students
with useful activities that impact on them positively.
These days, there are many things competing for the time
and mind of students. Pornography, occultism, cocaine
usage, gayism, lesbianism, alcohol usage, valentine day
celebrations, shit-bombing of classrooms, and the like,
have all crept into the school system and are taking
quality time away from students; time that they need to
study and appreciate the beauty of school subjects and
how these subjects contribute to the general knowledge
needed for the development of dear Ghana.
Mr. Owusu-Ansah, (and for that matter anybody reading)
be reminded that Mathematics is not a monster, as your
teacher made it look to you. Mathematics is not the
problem, but the way we teach Mathematics is the
problem. Mathematics has a lovely, orderly, and friendly
human face and character. Many who consult with me at
the Mathematics Academy come with gloomy and traumatic
stories but leave with and ear-to-ear grin. If you
understand mathematics, you will find it to be a friend,
and a good friend in deed. Thanks Africanus, for taking
me through those memory lanes in your article. God bless
you! |