Wake Up Mathematical Association of Ghana!

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!!!

-Dr. Sitsofe Anku

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