I hope most Ghanaians are now aware of our students'
poor performance in mathematics as evidenced by the
results of Trends in International Mathematics and
Science Study (TIMSS), which was conducted in 2003. When
the results were ranked from the highest to the lowest
in performance, Ghana occupied the 44 th position out of
the 45 participating countries.
The results are very painful to those of us who brag
about the Ghanaian's academic prowess. Brooding over the
results is of no use though; rather concrete steps must
be taken to stop the downward trend of performance in
mathematics, stabilize the situation, and then gradually
move the whole nation towards understanding and
appreciating the beauty and utility of mathematics in
today's world. It is for this reason that I want to
throw a searchlight on the Mathematical Association of
Ghana (MAG) with the belief that it has a crucial role
to play in making mathematics meaningful to our
students.
When I was discussing the TIMSS results with the current
Acting Director General of GES, he asked me a crucial
question: How international is our curriculum for us to
engage our students in international studies? I have
pondered over this question for a very long time. Many
things went through my mind including the remarks by the
Vice Chancellor of the University of Education , Winneba,
to the effect that our teaching is limited to the lower
levels of the cognitive domain, mainly recall and what
is supposed to be application but never really is
application.
We leave out the higher levels of the cognitive domain,
which comprise analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
These higher levels tend to be emphasized in most
international curricula. Then there is also the other
problem of our mathematics textbooks being archaic and
not reflecting any of these higher levels of cognitive
thinking. Will it be surprising therefore if most of our
students could not respond appropriately to some of the
test items?
There are many intervening variables that are affecting
our educational system, but the one question I will also
like to ask is: How international are the content and
pedagogical knowledge of our mathematics teachers for
them to be able to prepare our students for
international studies? Some may argue that mathematics
is mathematics, so what is the fuss about? Let me answer
by saying that the thinking processes that underlie what
was considered higher level mathematics are now
permeating lower levels of mathematics.
This is so because these thinking processes are becoming
important in our everyday life activities. For example,
graph theory, which may not be considered lower level
mathematics, has a simple thinking process which talks
of discrete structures as vertices and the connections
between the structures as the lines drawn between these
vertices. This thinking process is applied extensively
in areas like houses (the discrete structures) and the
telephone connectivity (lines) between these houses,
cities (the discrete structures) and the flight
connections (lines) between them. Do teachers here
highlight this type of thinking process while they teach
mathematics? Who cares about the result of “two-seventh
divided by three-fifth” if it's relevance is not
provided in a meaningful context?
The other issue is that of teachers attempting to “pour”
knowledge into the “empty” heads of the students rather
than providing them the opportunity to study and
understand mathematics. For example, the teacher does
not tell the student what pi is but rather provides the
opportunity for the student to investigate the ratio of
the circumference of several circles to their diameters
and to find this ratio to approximate a constant called
pi .
These trends in international curricula are gained
through serious professional development which must be
on-going, but which I find lacking in MAG. I know there
are annual conferences but they are poorly organized
with themes that are diametrically opposed to the
business of the conference. A case in point was the
annual conference of 2004 held in Navrongo, where even
the venue was an eyesore. Nothing worked meaningfully.
Professionals familiar with such trends need to mount
frequent courses for mathematics teachers through MAG.
Mathematics teachers (through MAG) need to be supported
to attend international conferences. MAG should be
organizing international conferences for its members by
inviting other international mathematics associations.
MAG must expand its membership to include those who are
not classroom teachers of mathematics.
MAG members can gain valuable knowledge by interacting
with such people. MAG leadership needs to open up to new
ideas that will make MAG a truly professional body that
will spearhead mathematics education in Ghana . I can
literally hear some MAG members shouting at me: Where is
the money to organize international conferences?
Who pays for our per diem? And many more… But that's
exactly the problem: not seeing a way out the box that
has created a mental barrier to the many ways out of the
box. MAG is dying, but to all those who are concerned
about mathematics in this country, I say, please don't
le MAG die!!! |