Maths: The golden key in fine print


MATHEMATICS is notorious for being disliked by most students. It is perceived to be the most difficult school subject.
Many people have declared or heard others declare “I hate maths!”, “I just can’t understand maths!”, “maths sucks!”, “when it comes to maths I am hopeless!” and other such statements.
Unfortunately, performance scores in the subject confirm these sentiments. In Lesotho, for instance, perusal of Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) and Junior Certificate (JC) examination results over the past four years have shown that in the COSC the most recurring grade is an “F” or a “9” [= 0 – 39 percent], while in the JC the most recurring grade is a “G” [= 20 – 29 percent].
The largely pervasive “symbol 9” in COSC Mathematics grounds so many Form E matriculants as they can’t get admission into most colleges in the country.
I have come across scores of Form E “graduates” who can’t get into Lesotho Agricutural College, National Health Training College, Lesotho College of Education (Maths & science), Lerotholi Polytechnic and Institute of Extra -Mural Studies (Business Studies) citing the “symbol 9” in Mathematics as the major hindrance to their gaining admission. Those that manage to do well enough in other subjects to gain admission elsewhere have their programme choices severely limited at places like the National University of Lesotho (NUL), and end up settling for programmes they wouldn’t otherwise consider.
Everybody acknowledges that education is the key to success.
Success in this context is usually understood to mean a lucrative and rewarding career. Careers in accountancy, engineering, finance and medicine are high-end careers that command some of the highest earnings globally.
Furthermore, professionals in these careers are reported to be in short supply.
It is important to note that these careers are grounded in Mathematics, and one needs a good Mathematics score to get into these university programmes.
While a good Mathematics score is necessary to get into these programmes, it is the solid grasp and proper understanding of the subject that lead to success in these programmes.
The following extract from the Business Day of November 24, 2010 is instructive:
“Parents and teachers should encourage their children to study and succeed in Mathematics if they want to enter attractive careers like chartered accountancy, engineering or financial services,” says Chantyl Mulder, senior executive for professional development, transformation and growth at the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica).
“There are too few learners graduating from SA’s schools with good marks in Mathematics, which is also causing a skills shortage in the financial services sector and the engineering industry.
SA’s economy is crying out for skills based on Mathematics. Mathematics is the key to a prosperous and fulfilling future.”
Much as education is the key to success, without mathematics this key opens very few doors.
It would seem that Mathematics is the most crucial ingredient to making this statement true.
How so? Well, good Mathematics grades open up limitless study and career options. Surprisingly it seems that this fact is some sort of a fine print that has generally not been noticed nor adhered to.
How else would such a special ingredient be regarded by learners’ as the Number One enemy? Are parents not aware of just how important Mathematics is?
I am quite sure they are! It’s just that it has become a generally accepted reality that Mathematics is a difficult subject that can only be mastered by few. Granted a good number of parents were part of the “I can’t do Maths” club, yet they turned out fine and are not doing badly in life.
Even then, parents always want their kids to do better than them. That is why they pay for private schools, extra tuition after school or on weekends as well as take out insurance policies aimed at funding their children future (most likely tertiary) studies.
It is good and commendable to invest in education. But if the Mathematics component of that investment is not taken care of, most of the time the investment doesn’t quite pay off. Dreams fly out of the window. Then we hear statements like “I wanted to pursue degree A but ended up doing degree B”, “Much as I have a degree in X, my dream was to become Y.”
When it comes to education and its role in the learners’ future, the golden key is in the fine print — and that is Mathematics.
With the right attitude, application and commitment coupled with the right guidance everyone can do Mathematics, enjoy it and pass it.
That’s correct, everyone!


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