In the general news of Monday May 30, 2005, under the caption “Ghana's Math Books are Colo”, Professor Anamuah-Mensah, the vice-chancellor of the University College of Education, Winneba, was quoted to have said two major things. First, that mathematics text books used in Ghanaian primary and junior secondary schools are out of date and should be replaced. Second, that Ghanaian school mathematics curriculum used at that those levels does not meet international standards. These two factors, according to the news item, are responsible for the dismal performance of Ghanaian junior secondary school students in the 2003 mathematics test conducted by Trend in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). In that study, Ghana's eighth graders were ranked 44th among 45 countries that participated in the study.
We have a few critical questions for Professor Anamuah-Mensah. What does he mean by his statement that Ghana's school mathematics curriculum does not meet global requirements? Who set this global standards and for what purpose? What does the professor mean when he said school mathematics textbooks in Ghana are outmoded? Is he referring to the publishing date of the textbooks, mathematical theory or concepts, or the approaches used in explaining mathematical concepts? What are internationally relevant and applicable mathematics textbooks? Can he give examples for primary and JSS? What is the evidentiary basis of his conclusion that school mathematics textbooks in Ghana are out of date? As a matter of fact, educational standards are local. As at now, there is no any international body adjudicating on “global” standards of mathematics education. And to the best of our knowledge, there are no global requirements for mathematics curriculum. We would like the professor to show us any evidence to the contrary by producing the global requirements of mathematics education and an example of a curriculum that meets it. Mathematics theories, principles, and concepts covered up to SSS have remained pretty much the same for over the last 100 years or more. The standard of mathematics education or education in general is measured by the contributions of its products to a country's development, not its performance on an international test. If the graduates of Ghana's education system cannot even define the basic problems of the country let alone solve them, regardless of any considerations, Ghana's standards of education is low and must be improved.
The Issues and factors affecting Ghanaian student performance on that international mathematics test are far more than what the good professor states. To avoid repeating ourselves, we refer readers to our two articles on the Ghanaweb feature article column (January 08 and February 23, 2005). The two articles analyze the tests in both mathematics and science in relation to cultural, linguistic, and pedagogical factors that we believed accounted for Ghana's poor performance. In our professional judgement, we do not see any fundamental association between the students' performance on the TIMSS mathematics test and the content of mathematics curriculum and mathematics textbooks in used in Ghana's schools. In fact, all the mathematics concepts, such as linear equations and proportionate reasoning, on which the test were based are in Ghana's school mathematics textbooks and curriculum. On the contrary, the major problem that we have identified has to do with the ways in which these concepts are taught to students. Ghanaian mathematics methodology at those levels is totally out of sync with current research in mathematics education. Current school mathematics research puts a considerable emphasis on the following in order to promote effective mathematics teaching and learning:
1. Communication in learning mathematics;
2. Students as active constructors of knowledge, not passive recipients of knowledge;
3. More stress on understanding of mathematics concepts and less on memorization of mathematics procedure, algorithms, formulas, facts, etc;
4. Mathematics teaching as facilitating, stimulating and challenging students thinking rather mere “telling”;
5. Relating mathematics to students' cultural and physical environment; 6. Small and large students' group work;
7. More emphasis on project assignments and less on mundane or repetitive exercises;
8. The use of manipulatives or concrete materials;
9. Problem-solving, especially problem-posing;
10. Environments in which students can ask questions, make mistakes, clarify their understandings and challenge mathematical ideas in respectful and critical ways.
The ways we train mathematics teachers and teach mathematics should change to incorporate these elements. Changing mathematics textbooks or the curriculum would have practically no impact on students' mastering of mathematics concepts. For example, we may mandate that primary six students must learn inequalities or JSS 2 students learn combinatorics or fractals. Yet, if the teachers who would teach these concepts have poor pedagogies very little would be accomplished. It is time the Ghana Education Services looks seriously into teacher training and teacher professional enhancement programs as means of improving mathematics teaching and learning at the primary and junior secondary school levels.
There is also another factor that is always left out in the discussion of student mathematics learning in Ghana. This has to do with the widespread belief in Ghana that mathematics can only be learned by those endowed with special mental abilities. The British colonial masters, who initiated this belief, were influenced by their racist views that the abstract nature of mathematics was above the intellectual capacity of Black people to conceptualize. And over the years some educated Ghanaians and mathematics teachers have propagated this erroneous belief and now it has become a deeply entrenched belief among students and non-students alike. How does one expect Ghanaian students to exert maximum effort to learn mathematics when they have been made to believe that mathematics is for only whose with special brains? Nevertheless, countries that performed well on the TIMSS mathematics, especially Asian countries, have a culture that tends to believe that mathematics learning is significantly dependent on effort, not on inherent special brains or abilities. To establish a strong mathematics learning culture in Ghana's schools, the destructive belief that mathematics learning is for those with esoteric mental gifts must be uprooted from Ghanaian society in general and from Ghana's educational institutions in particular. Though we do not claim to have all the solutions to this problem, we strongly believe that a new mathematics pedagogy grounded in the principles we have outlined above, along with other symbolic and monetary incentives would help to usher in a new era of mathematics learning in Ghana's schools. Y. Fredua-Kwarteng, Ontario Institute for Study in Education (OISE) Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.