Revamping Mathematics education in Ghana:

From my experience having taught mathematics and mathematics education in several countries that include Ghana, Nigeria, Canada, and Singapore, I have come to belief that the proper and common place use of the principles and methods of mathematics can propel Ghana into a developed country status. This is possible if the study of mathematics is made less stressful and mathematics itself becomes meaningful and relevant to those who study it. The efficiency of all engineering, science and technological advancements we see around us are due to the proper application of mathematics and all developed countries have recognized this fact and used it (and continue to use it) to their advantage.

 

Poor State of Mathematics

The need to do something about the very poor state of mathematics in the country becomes compelling when you become aware that during Trends In Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS 2003), an international study conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) of the USA, out of the 45 countries that participated, Ghana occupied the 44th position when all countries were ranked from top to bottom. Poor results in mathematics from other sources like the Basic Schools Certificate Examination (BECE) and the Senior Secondary Schools Certificate Examination (SSSCE) all over the country are well known. These poor results become a source of pain to many well meaning Ghanaians. Failure in mathematics has become a stumbling block to advancement for many Ghanaians.
Can’t anything be done about the situation?

 

Something can be done!

For example, it is very important that teachers of mathematics are sensitized and equipped to provide opportunities for their students to enjoy the study of mathematics and be good at it. Also students, and for that matter Ghanaians, must understand mathematics to the extent that they see how mathematics ensures efficiency in all human endeavors, especially how it applies to their professions.

 

MathNED

Consequently, MathNED**, an advocacy non-governmental organization that promotes the use of mathematics for national education and development is putting together a national strategy to rekindle interest in mathematics for both mathematics teachers and students. MathNED therefore seeks to provide professional development for mathematics teachers (which would include conducting classroom research and applying the results to improve teaching), counseling in career choices for students, introducing teachers and students to interactive software for enhancing the teaching and learning of mathematics through the computer. Also to be promoted are enrichment programs for the mathematics classroom, seminars, workshops, and talks on mathematics, and assessment issues in mathematics.
 
Breaking Mental Barriers
Some of the issues to be discussed involve breaking mental barriers, where mental barriers mean mindsets that prevent people from making progress. For example, it is a mental barrier to think and accept that females cannot do mathematics. Some other mental barriers include thinking and accepting that mathematics is difficult, it‘s study cannot be enjoyed and be fun, and that introducing activities into the mathematics classroom will cause the school syllabus not to be finished. Rather, I will like to show that mathematics can be fun and everybody can do mathematics. Students need to be connecting mathematics to real life, applying mathematics in a variety of situations, developing critical minds that they can use to analyze complex situations, being able to synthesize creatively, and be able to evaluate the worth of creative solutions to problems. Remember that it was through the use of their knowledge of discrete mathematics that different groups of my students of my former University (Ashesi) developed a working prototype of a traffic light, a software for making school timetable (the university currently uses the software for its own timetable), and another software for generating school reports.
 
Structured Discovery Learning (SDL)
In addition, teachers can be taught how to use activity-based learning through what I call structured discovery learning  that guarantees students’ understanding of mathematics and the teachers completion of the syllabus.  In fact, there are so many repetitions in the syllabus that, by SDL approach, a JSS 1 student will need only two hours per day, five days a week to complete the whole of the JSS mathematics syllabus in less than six months and pass an examination in it.
 
International Exposure
Furthermore, there is the need to provide international exposure to our teachers through attendance and presentation of papers at conferences and their involvement in organizing international conferences in mathematics here in Ghana.  Similarly, our students must participate frequently in international mathematics activities, such as the Pan African Mathematics Olympia (PAMO) and the International Mathematics Olympia (IMO), which are international competitions in mathematics that several African countries participate in .  The sad news is that Ghana does not participate in them.  However, MathNED intends to promote all of these!
 
Mathematics Clubs
In furtherance of this national strategy, I have created a website (www.mathned.org) from where I want to connect all mathematics teachers to a forum where we can discuss mathematical issues of national concern.  Also, mathematics teachers all over the country are to help students organize mathematics clubs in their respective schools.  Members of these clubs are to create websites and have all of them linked to the MathNED website.   Some of the schools are to be linked with counterpart schools in the USA.  Furthermore, 14th February every year can be declared a day to Valentine with Mathematics, that is a day that all students in Ghana, through their clubs will mount exhibits to show love to mathematics.  For 2007 in particular, 14th February exhibits should showcase 50 years of mathematics education in Ghana, as part of our golden anniversary celebrations.  Some of these issues were discussed at the just ended annual conference of the MAG which took place in Cape Coast from 28th August to 2nd September 2006.  Currently, I am in the process of giving free email accounts to members of MAG for us to begin running the forum.  Send me mail to get connected!
 
Mathematics Road Show

As a first step to realizing this ambitious program, I am launching a road show to visit  as many senior secondary schools nationwide as possible.  Teacher training colleges, polytechnics, and the universities can all benefit from the program.  Three talks are planned for  delivery in each school or a cluster of schools. 
The topics are:

  • Pursuing Excellence in Education
  • Everybody Can Do Mathematics
  • Career Choice Counseling
 
However, I need several types of support to implement this program successfully, especially by making it free for schools.  I am requesting the media houses to kindly become our media sponsors to help spread information on this national program to rekindle interest in mathematics education in Ghana.  Whatever support you want to give in kind or cash will be appreciated and can be sent to MathNED through the Editor of the daily Graphic.
-Dr. Sitsofe Anku
 

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