Innovative tutors finding formula for CSEC math success
A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.
With Jamaica seeing consistently poor performances in mathematics at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) level, unconventional teachers are redoubling their efforts to solve the complex problem.
The Caribbean Examinations Council, which administers the CSEC exams, has reported that, in the latest sitting, Jamaica saw a decline in student performances in the subject area, with only 37.2 per cent of the candidates attaining a passing grade.
Mikiela Campbell, a full-time mathematics tutor and owner/operator of Mathwiz Academy, says she was disheartened by the latest statistics and believes there is an urgent need to return to the timetable to build a rock-solid foundation.
“When I reviewed last year’s past paper, I knew that any student who did not have a solid foundation would not have been able to apply themselves. It was an exam filled with beautifully crafted critical-thinking questions and, on another day, [it] would have been any math lover’s dream,” she explained.
She noted that COVID-19 had thrown a spanner into the works as students continue to play catch-up to fill a two-year academic gap.
“There is not one problem but, instead, several that can be summed up like this: we have not developed and committed to a learning strategy that allows students to truly appreciate numbers and the basic concepts,” she said, adding that such areas include directed numbers, solving equations and fractions.
If these topics are not mastered, Campbell told The Gleaner, students will find all other topics difficult.
Mathu Wallace, an Ardenne High School alumnus, found this to be true while tutoring his classmates through challenging topics.
“The main problem that students have is application and reasoning,” he stated.
The 17-year-old mathematics genius had always had a knack for the subject, standing out as a top student from the primary-school level.
After matriculating to Ardenne High with perfect scores, by third form, he sat the CSEC mathematics exam, where he received a grade one – the highest of the three passing grade levels.
Seeing his fellow students struggle with the subject, he was then motivated to help them.
Wallace has been breaking down tough concepts and teaching his peers for years, personifying the mantra of leaving no classmate behind.
“When they don’t like a topic, it’s challenging to get them to open up because they put no effort into actually liking it. I always aim to discourage this practice,” he told The Gleaner.
“I have always liked maths, but, as I climbed further up the academic ladder, I realised that I like working with numbers. There are topics that I truly enjoy and others that I despise, so I focus on the areas that I am good at,” he said, but noted that it was critical to also work on the weaker areas to strike the necessary balance.
This rubric also paid off in other areas of studies as he passed 11 CSEC subjects, including additional mathematics, with 10 grade ones and a grade two.
For now, he is open to opportunities to keep doing what he enjoys.
“I would love to continue to tutor students in mathematics. It’s a fun experience and it’s a learning experience. It keeps me sharp with maths topics, and I get to help other students do better and achieve what I have achieved,” he added.
His stellar performance in academia is stabilised by his involvement in co-curricular activities at school. He also has an active life outside of school as the assistant youth director, personal ministry secretary and a young elder-in-training at the Balcombe Drive Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Campbell agrees that balance is the key component in measuring and elevating a student’s aptitude and success rates.
She has found success in the strategic rearrangement of the curriculum, allowing tutors to teach concepts not yet grasped by the students, while tackling current grade topics.
She believes that addressing the fears and concerns students have with the subject is the first step on the road to a turnaround.
“To solve most maths problems means applying a new method of approaching maths because, whatever method is currently being used nationally, is not adding up. It is our hope that each child at Mathwiz Academy leaves with a different attitude towards the subject. We have had students professionally diagnosed with dyscalculia who go on to become some of our top students,” she revealed.