Overcoming Mathematics phobia in schools

Mathematics fear is quite common to most students in Rwanda and other countries. The fear that mathematics is too complicated and difficult to pass makes students loose confidence and subsequently fail the subject.

Mathematics fear is quite common to most students in Rwanda and other countries. The fear that mathematics is too complicated and difficult to pass makes students loose confidence and subsequently fail the subject.

In most schools, mathematics feared by many students and the result has been poor performance.

Many students feel uncertain about their mathematical ability. Hence there has been a general misconception that some people are naturally poor at mathematics. This for sure, explains why some students acquire a fear of mathematics while at school which, unfortunately, often haunts them for the rest of their lives.

Student’s fear of mathematics inhibits learning and makes them perform poorly, not only in the subject in question, but in other related science subjects as well.

The fear could arise in various ways; someone might have been taught the subject badly at some time in the past (especially at the primary level), and then came away with the idea that he/she was not up to it. The person might even have attended a class where everyone had a bias on the subject.

Once the fear is implanted, it will cause the student to fall further behind and fail the subject miserably.

Teachers have had difficulties in explaining why their students do not pass maths and science subjects generally.

I have learnt with concern that the problem is growing too psychological. The issue of anxiety and fear have a big role to play in a student’s failure. This is a dangerous psychological issue!

The fear poorly prepares the child’s mind to study mathematics. The experience therefore, sets a valuable lesson for teachers who are in charge of the teaching and learning process. Very many students’ fear that they will never be able to understand mathematics is a tradition handed down from generation to generation.

The fear has kept students out of mathematics classes and there is great need to reverse the situation. It therefore, calls for another approach quite different from the traditional one. For example, we need to use teaching methods that allow each student to progress at his or her own rate. The majority of the teachers are aware of this but lack the capacity or the will to put it in practice.

Many teachers only know this in theory and I am sure that the failure to implement it is to some extent justified. In practice, it’s difficult for a teacher to apply the appropriate mathematics teaching methodologies and at the same time be certain to cover a tight syllabus as required by the national curriculum.

Therefore, there is a need to review this poor traditional method of teaching maths which has kept many children out of school.

Bad teaching is almost entirely responsible for the dislike, hatred and fear of mathematics.

Children want to know things, they want to do things. Teachers do not have to put life into them; the life is there, waiting for an outlet. All that is needed from a teacher is to preserve and direct the flow. Mathematics teaching needs more life through constant practice and teachers do not give students that chance.

The result is entirely justified students’ hatred, fear and contempt for all kinds of learning including mathematics and the general intellectual life.

First, it solves almost all the psychological issues identified with fear: It provides peer role models and social support, and debunks the idea that being good at mathematics is inherent. The group-work approach has also been successful in most developed countries where this kind of fear is present.

Teachers should understand that fear of mathematics does not at all point to a lack of ability, neither should they use mathematics scores to screen students out.

I have no doubt that, the argument put across by some people that mathematics is too difficult for a student is false. It is only the fear that pupils grow up with, right from primary school, which is the problem.

We can only reverse this, by creating a learning environment that eliminates the fear. I also emphasise that it is high time we fought societal stereotypes that portray some people as being inherently less able to understand maths and science. The mathematics phobia can be erased slowly.




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