Improving the O’level Mathematics Education
Posted on November 4th, 2014

Jay Deshabandu

Mathematics education should be a mandatory subject at any level in a school.  Mathematics can broadly be defined as the science of understanding and recognizing patterns and classifying them based on numbers or well defined mathematical structures.  The learning process of mathematics promotes one’s analytical skills and critical thinking. Critical thinking is important to live a better life regardless of the nature of one’s employment. The architect of the U.S. constitution, George Washington, was a Mathematician.

Education minister was correct when he said that the level of mathematics knowledge should be different for pupils intending to pursue different areas of higher education.  But, there should be core knowledge, at the ordinary level, in which each student is expected to have competency.

Besides, a democracy works well only when citizens are able to think independently and make intelligent decisions based on facts. Mathematics learning process help a person cultivate the habit of making decisions based on facts.

As a mathematics educator with over twenty years of experience and working in an overseas country, I am  a bit shocked and saddened by the poor performance of the G.C.E ( O/L) students on mathematics.  Sri Lankan students have already had good reputation for their mathematical skills when I was studying at my O-level education a long time ago.  It seems like the quality of our education is becoming poor as we go in to the future.  Now more than 50 percent of the students do fail on the government O-level mathematics examination. Root causes for this problem should be clearly identified and should be corrected to bring about a positive change in the mathematics education and our students’ lives.

It is my opinion that an overhaul of the system is needed to bring our students to international standards.  I would like to put forward the following strategies which may improve both students’ and the teachers’ performance.

Teachers’ development

All teachers in each province should be given seminars at least twice a year on effective teaching methods, classroom management and evaluation of students.  Teachers should be given training on marking papers adhering to the standards set out by the department of examinations.  In Mathematics, the process of getting the answer is more important than the final answer.  It is the approach of solving the problem that matters.  It is the thinking pattern of the student that is important.  The teacher should teach how an answer should be written with steps that carry marks. Teachers should follow the syllabus and make his teaching material relevant to the syllabus.  The teacher should teach mathematical concepts by relating it to the real world examples and problems.  The teacher should promote students’ critical thinking and independent learning skills.

Evaluation of students’ progress

It is important that head of the school determine the approximate dates for mid-term exams and end of the term exams for the pupils.  Adequate opportunities should be given to students practice mock examinations in the class.  The results of these exams should be analyzed to determine the level of the knowledge of the students and effectiveness of the teaching methods by the teacher.   In addition, teachers should give enough class tests or quizzes for the students.  This way, students could evaluate his own level and use his mistakes as a learning process to reflect his own knowledge and method of thinking.  Students should be made to become active learners.  Students should be told to become leaders not followers.

Teacher parent conferences

Students perform best when both teachers and parents become partners of their education.  Hence, the parent- teacher conference should be immediately arranged after term tests, and parents should be informed of these dates by the head of the school at the beginning of each term. Student behavior and his progress should be discussed at the presence of the student.

Teacher certifications

A competent authority should be established to evaluate a teacher’s knowledge on the content of the subject and his professional competence and the teaching skills and to issue a teaching certificate as a certified teacher.   A mere bachelor degree in Mathematics or a diploma from a teacher training program is not enough to guarantee the teachers knowledge on the subject and teaching skills.  The teachers with teacher certificate, and relevant teaching experience should be considered for a credible salary increase or other benefits.

Attracting professional teachers

Professional teachers are highly educated and experienced and work as teachers because it is their choice of work that they love to do.  There should be a mechanism for attracting highly qualified teachers to Sri Lanka even from overseas and placing them to monitor, to evaluate other teacher’s performance and then report it to the educational authorities.

All of the above is useless unless the school is lack of appropriate resources for the teacher and the students.  The government can print workbook for students which may include past paper questions. A guide line book could be distributed for the teachers who could use it when presenting a sophisticated concept to the classroom.

The scholarships could be given to students who show remarkable progress in a year.

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