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International Day of Mathematics.

Making Ghana a Mathematics-friendly nation: A key to our national development agenda

International Day of Mathematics.

In November 2019, the United Nations Education,

Scientific and Cultural Organisation named 14th March of

every year as the International Da  y of Mathematics.

This was in recognition of the central role Mathematics has in our lives.

Prior to that, the day had been celebrated as World Pi Day,

after the famous mathematical constant, the first

three digits of which are 3.14. In the American rendering,

3.14 is March 14th, hence the choice of that date.

The date also has great significance for two of the

most celebrated figures in science.

On 14th March, 1879, Albert Einstein was born.

Just 26 years later, the publication of his

Annus Mirabilis papers changed physics and altered

how we conceive light, matter, time and space.

It is also the date on which another giant of science died.

Professor Stephen Hawkins’ research on black holes and the

big bang tremendously expanded our understanding of the universe.

The term mathematics derives from the Greek word

“mathema” which means “knowledge,”

an indication of the centrality of the subject to

all scholarships. The study of mathematics is essentially

a study of four major related concepts.

  • We study numbers and how things can be counted;
  • Structure or how things are organised (algebra);
  • Where things are and how they are arranged (geometry);
  • or how things change or become different (analysis).

Why study Mathematics -International Day of Mathematics.

The study of mathematics helps develop essential skills;

that are useful for living life meaningfully.

These skills include creativity, critical and spatial thinking,

investigation and problem solving and the ability to

grasp abstract concepts. Without mathematics, our lives

, I daresay, would be journeys from chaos to catastrophe

with no sense of the distance between them and no

conception of the magnitude of these disasters.

For the first commemoration in 2020,

UNESCO chose the theme ‘Mathematics is Everywhere’.

This year, it has chosen ‘Mathematics for a better world’.

Both themes show how mathematics is suffused into

the humdrum of our daily lives.

Professions relying on Mathematics – International Day of Mathematics.

When we think of professions that rely on the subject,

we tend to think of engineers and scientists.

But mathematics is useful to a lot more of us.

  • The seamstress cannot cut her patterns without                                                       mathematical concepts such as measurement.
  • The fishmonger cannot sell his produce without                                                              mathematical concept of arithmetic.
  • At home, we could not serve our potions of food if                                                                  we didn’t employ mathematics.
  • In politics, we could not determine the winner of an election,                                                   or which side in parliament is the majority without mathematics.

Mathematics as a difficult subject – International Day of Mathematics.

Owing mostly to challenges with the mode of instruction

and assessment, many children come to view mathematics

as a difficult subject. This directly affects the number of

people willing to take it up as a discipline in later life.

This, in turn, affects the number and quality of personnel

available to careers and disciplines that rely on

mathematics and its applications.

When one surveys the broad spectrum of innovation

and technological advancements that now define our

very lives, we can see the fascinating hand of mathematics

guiding all of them. From the inexhaustible store of
knowledge that is google,

to the wonders of artificial intelligence,

we see the transformational effects of applied mathematics.

Mathematics has been key in the efforts to sequence

the Coronavirus, as our own scientists at Noguchi did last year.

This has helped in understanding the nature of the

virus and in developing the vaccines and

therapeutics that are helping save lives.

Unlike their counterparts in countries such as Korea,

Japan and Singapore, Ghanaian children struggle

to demonstrate a conceptual understanding of

basic mathematical principles.

The manner of instruction and assessment,

it has been found, focuses on the memorisation and

recitation at the expense of problem solving and

application of mathematical knowledge to everyday contexts,

which are the true values of studying mathematics.

Ghana children performs poorly in mathematics

International comparative studies, such as the

Trends in International Science and Mathematics Study (TIMSS)

have consistently shown Ghanaian pupils performing poorly,

with over eighty percent unable to meet basic benchmarks

of mathematical competence.

The Ghana National Education Assessment of 2016

showed that less than 25 percent of Ghanaian pupils

met the proficiency cut-point in P4 and P6 mathematics.

A review of Ghanaian pupils’ performance in mathematics

tests revealed that they are quite comfortable with

computations and algorithms.

Unfortunately, they are unable to apply the principles

of these operations to mathematical problem solving.

Why Ghana children performs poorly in Mathematics

This has been attributed to factors such as inadequate

teaching and learning materials as well as insufficient

instructional time. Also to blame are an overcrowded

curriculum and the poor training of teachers.

We can resolve most of these by applying more

resources and changing the nature of curriculum,

instruction and assessment.

Why Ghanaian children dislike Mathematics – International Day of Mathematics.

A study by S.D Gyang, ‘Mathematics Education in

Proposed Junior Secondary School in Ghana’

found that the manner of instruction of  mathematics

discouraged students. Many of us would recognise

the phenomena described in the study such as the

early morning drills known as “mental”

that often led to painful punishments for erring students.

It is no wonder that many of us have less than fond

memories of the subject and why so few,

some four decades after the study,

are still wary of taking up this necessary challenge.

Making Mathematics a friendly subject – International Day of Mathematics.

Central to our efforts to bring mathematics into

the mainstream where it should be, would be an

overhaul of the way in which the subject is taught.

I am happy to observe that we are making some

efforts in that direction. As former Director General

of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment,

I can report that the new standards-based curriculum

that we developed and is currently in operation,

directly addresses this problem. And as someone whose

first love was and is mathematics,

I take particular pride in this fact.

Improving the teaching and learning of Mathematics

I am also heartened by efforts that the government

is making to improve the teaching and learning of

mathematics in the country. Through the Science,

Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics Centers,

the national numeracy program  in collaboration with

Matific and other technology-based initiatives such

as iBox, the Ministry of Education is working to make

the study of mathematics more fun and attractive to students.

In addition, the Mathematics and Science for

Sub-Sahara program  by the World Bank,

which Ghana has signed on to, will help improve

teachers’ content knowledge, pedagogical

practices and the use of teaching and learning

materials to boost children’s understanding of

mathematical concepts.

Ghanaians   are talented in Mathematics

It is not as if we do not have the talent.

Only last year, Roni Adom Edwin, a,17-year-old Ghanaian,

won bronze at the annual Mathematical Olympiad,

where he was also the highest scoring African student.

It is our hope that Master Edwin and other prodigies

like him will come to walk in the shoes of our pre-eminent

mathematician, the late, great and celebrated

Professor Francis Kofi Ampenyin Allotey.
International Day of Mathematics.
Professor Francis Kofi Ampenyin Allotey.

In his storied life and career, Professor Allotey

came to exemplify excellence in the discipline not

only here in Ghana but around the world.

From relatively humble beginnings in Saltpond in

the Central Region, he rose to the very top of his field.

He was the first Ghanaian to become a full professor

of mathematics, head of the Department of Mathematics

and later Dean of the Faculty of Science at the

Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Tehnology.

He became famous for the “Allotey Formalism”

which arose from his work on soft X-ray spectroscopy.

Professor Allotey helped bring computer education to

the masses around Africa. In 2004, he was listed among 100

physicists and mathematicians cited in the book,

‘One hundred reasons to be a scientist,’

the only African to make the list.

Indeed, Professor Allotey and his globally renowned

exploits are a shining example and encouragement

to all our young people, no matter the discipline that

they choose to apply themselves to. In seeking to

improve our participation and performance in mathematics,

the late professor’s distinguished career will be a necessary part.

That is why today, I am calling for Ghana to name 9th August,

the date of his birth, as National Mathematics Day,

in honour of his unbelievable achievements and also

as a challenge and encouragement to young talents

in the country to reach for similar accomplishments.

In doing this, we will be celebrating a true national hero

while sowing the seeds for the growth of his successors.

Mathematics is as central to the course of development

as it is in our personal lives. We can guarantee our prosperity

as a nation by investing in mathematics, improving the

teaching and learning of it and assisting those

who want to make a career in it.

Revolution in Mathematics.

A generation from now, we could be in the midst

of a boom in innovation and enterprise, birthed by

a revolution in mathematics. That future is ours to reach for.

It is one we must aim for. And it is a future that I

hope we can start to prepare for from today,

as we mark the International Day of Mathematics.

The writer is the Member of Parliament for Kwesimintsim

and the former Director General of the National Council for

Curriculum and Assessment. He holds a PhD in Mathematics

Education and has over a decade of experience teaching

mathematics across various age grades.

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