Regardless of where they grow up, children develop basic mathematical concepts and strategies to solve a variety of mathematical problems before even starting school (Allardice & Ginsburg, 1993; Ferron, 1989).
Most of these basic mathematical knowledge and skills are acquired through play, referred to by Ferron as nature’s teaching method. With this background, children arrive in the school equipped with a range of experiences that introduce them to, and require them to use, mathematical concepts.
The mathematical concepts, skills and experiences acquired through nature’s teaching methods need to be systematized, invested and developed in the school. It is therefore important for teachers to acknowledge and extend the pre-school experiences or spontaneous knowledge (prior knowledge) of the children within their classrooms. The consolidation of basic mathematical skills commonly known as numeracy is vital to the life opportunities and achievements of these individual learners (Kilpatrick, Swafford & Findell, 2001).
It is evident, nowadays in our society that individuals with limited basic mathematical skills are at greatest disadvantage in the labour market and in terms of general social exclusion.
Therefore, if the future citizens need to participate in democratic processes in an economically, and technologically advanced society, they need to have not only good literacy skills, but also good skills in mathematics. It is crucial that they receive better and quality education in mathematics, science and technology to meet the existing demand for such skills in the workforce and attainment of Vision 2030.
Mathematics also plays a significant role in the lives of individuals and society as a whole.
This makes it imperative that Namibian mathematics should equip learners with skills necessary for achieving higher education, career aspirations, and for attaining personal fulfillment.
It should also be noted that mathematics should not be seen merely as just a subject that prepares learners for higher academic attainment or the job market in the future, but also recognize how it compels the human brain to formulate problems, theories and methods of solutions as Writer (2011) puts it. It prepares learners to face a variety of simple to complex challenges they encounter on a daily basis.
Irrespective of our status in life and how good or bad our basic numeracy skills are, we apply mathematics knowingly or unknowingly as we encounter numbers everyday when variously cooking food, paying bills, buying groceries, building houses or kraals, weeding our crops fields.
The list is endless.
Mathematics is also a key instrument in diverse fields such as physical sciences (like Chemistry, Physics, Engineering), the life and health sciences (like Biology, Psychology, Pharmacy, Nursing, Optometry), the social sciences (including Anthropology, Communications, Economics, Linguistics, Education, Geography), the technical sciences/IT (like Computer Sciences, Networking, Software Development), Business and Commerce, Actuarial Sciences (used by insurances companies), Medicine, Music, Law, Politics, Agriculture (Gowers, 2011; Writer, 2011).
It is evident from the quotation above that learners who intend to ignore mathematics or not take it seriously at primary level via secondary school to tertiary education will forfeit many future career opportunities. They will turn their backs on more than half the job market. Although mathematics is vital in most of the careers as noted, there is a concern about the small number of Namibian students pursuing their studies in mathematics at higher institutions (Ilukena, 2008). Why so? The next section will try to point out some of causal factors and how to address them as a matter of agency:
• Firstly, the Namibia curriculum should have a strong spiral link between preparatory mathematics (Pre-Primary) and mathematics (Grades 1-12). In the past the foundations were not properly laid in each grade and built up across educational levels. Namely, the mathematics learnt at the lower primary level should serve as prior knowledge for upper primary and junior secondary and the ladder continues until the tertiary level. Shortcomings at lower primary phases inevitably extend into junior secondary phase, the senior secondary phase, then tertiary education.
• Secondly, there have been a number of news and other reports (Namibia. Ministry of Basic Education, Sport & Culture, 2004; Clegg, 2007; Namibia. Mathematics and Science Teachers Extension Programme (MASTEP); Namibia. (MEC), 1999] showing a concern among sections of the Namibian public over the performance of learners in mathematics. The concerns are about curricular content and methods of knowledge transfer to learners by teachers.
Recent research on the content proficiency of Namibian mathematics teachers and learners in grade 6 found the teachers second from the bottom beating only Zanzibar teachers, with the Namibian learners
This is not a healthy situation. It begs the question as to what might be the causes? Is it the mathematics curriculum, or the training of mathematics teachers or other causes? It shows that teachers struggle to teach mathematics confidently in Namibian classrooms.
For them to popularize mathematics and for mathematics lessons to be of maximum benefit to the learners, and be able to explain mathematics to their learners, it is necessary for these teachers to be fully competent and confident in the teaching of the subject.
Therefore, I suggest that the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with a partner university, should roll out a complementary course that will specifically address
lack of mathematics content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge at primary level.
This course will aim at seeing teachers acquiring more subject content and to improve their pedagogy towards better teaching to yield good results.
Thirdly, I argue for the mathematics subject to be made compulsory from grade 1 to grade 12 in Namibian schools before 2013. This will duly increase emphasis on science, technology and commerce so that learners become fully numerate not innumerate.
I know that majority of our learners perform poorly in Mathematics some might even say mathematics is not for all learners but for the gifted.
• As parents we should be aware that we already use a lot of mathematics on a daily basis, as indicated. The challenge is upon parents to motivate the majority of the learners into achieving better results in mathematics.
• Fourthly, I suggest that teachers at the foundation and primary levels should provide a basis for exploring numeracy in new, exciting and beneficial ways:
I. Teachers should aim to get across to learners the fact that numbers are everywhere, whether dealing with time, quantity, weight and sound.
II. Teachers should avoid the tendency of over-explaining topics in the class by dominating discussions. Teaching mathematics at foundation and primary level should be fun.
We should avoid the tendency to feel more secure with traditional bookish methods preferring to teach in the ways that we were taught, not realizing that we are working with intelligent and intellectual children. It is better we use varied teaching methods that involve stories, puzzles and written or mental games which should all feature in any of our numeracy lessons.
III. Teachers should make sure that mathematics activities extend to other school departments and are cross-referenced with other subjects such as arts, science, drama and language to mention but a few, for learners to see the links between
mathematics and other subjects.
IV. They should also link mathematics teaching to its importance in everyday life, for example:
A) Addition and Subtraction – Totalling the prices of groceries when shopping or calculating monthly bills requires mathematical skills.
B) Geometry – Weaving and decorating baskets; building a traditional home requires knowledge of geometry and some knowledge on enthnomathematics.
C) Area – Clearing the mahangu field or roofing the house needs to figure out the size of the area and amount of supplies needed.
D) Percentages – in banking, store sales or nutrition labels.
E) Playing the Odds- People who play the lottery use mathematics skills to try to determine the probability of their winning the jackpot as Baird (2011) puts it.
In conclusion, it is evident in this paper that mathematics is of central importance to modern society and provides the vital underpinning of the knowledge economy.
To achieve this we need a new paradigm shift in our teaching of mathematics so that teachers can deliver quality and better education to all Namibian learners irrespective of their background or social status as the advocacy is not for all learners to become mathematicians but to become numerate.
• Ilukena M. Alex is a Mathematics Lecturer at the University of Namibia: Rundu Campus.
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