THE EDITOR, Sir:
Having read your editorial in The Gleaner of Saturday, August 24, 2019, I feel compelled to add to the discussion.
Among other things, you said, “Even though there are a whole host of concepts and steps between counting and mastering the intricacies of algebra and geometry, for example, it starts by learning to count. But between that early kindergarten education and the high-school years, something happens and students begin to shun mathematics.”
Art of problem-solving
Unfortunately we too often believe that mathematics either begins with numbers or is all about the manipulation of numbers. However, while numbers MAY sometimes be involved, it is always safer that mathematics be approached as the tool that it really is – the art of solving problems.
Before a baby begins to even speak, therefore, it sets out to solve problems – like the problem of determining what things can fit inside its mouth – developing SPATIAL sense. A child playing with building blocks learns the importance of BALANCE in construction; when he/she mixes colours to produce a certain shade or other color, he/she learns the importance of PROPORTION – the same happens when he/she sweetens tea – and so on.
The inclusion of numbers in the art of problem solving is of necessity; so the child learns to appreciate one balloon as against five, for example, but in the same breath, I might as well highlight how important the concept of ZERO is, but it is often taken for granted.
I have observed that the new Primary Exit Profile exams evaluation has made an attempt at focusing on problem-solving. My only hang-up is that some of the test items are too difficult and too complex for that age group. The fact is that many Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate students, and even some teachers cannot pass that paper. Let’s hope that the administrators will look for process, in as much as ability, to solve appropriate difficult items.
It would help tremendously had the first teachers of our students been more mathematically inclined.
That said then, with the right approach, mathematics is not any more difficult than the other disciplines that we pursue. To this end, mathematics, if seen as a tool, a skill and an art, can be found to be rightly an integral and doable part of our everyday happenings.
A. Dean M. Forsythe