The Teaching and learning of mathematics in the basic schools

By Kofi Ashiboe Mensah, PhD

Accra, June 6, GNA – Even though, the role learners play to acquire mathematical knowledge and skills is imperative, teachers are critical factors in the learners’ understanding of mathematics concepts as their knowledge in the contents, pedagogy and beliefs have significant impact on instructional strategies (Mapelo & Akinsola, 2015).


The indication is that teachers’ memories of mathematics from their school years are a major driving factor that affects their mathematics beliefs, content knowledge and performance in pedagogy.

In the school setting, the aims and objectives of education can be achieved through taught subjects including mathematics (Egbochuku & Alika, 2008).

Therefore, one of the primary goals of education is to make learners reach high competences in mathematics, where teachers must explore available means to ensure that learners have the grips of every concept.

Queen of Science

Alutu & Eraikhuemen (2004) state that mathematics is the queen of science, the language of nature, and the bedrock of national development; a subject without which a nation cannot advance scientifically and technologically.

Accordingly, mathematics is the foundation for science, engineering, technology, humanities and a tool for industrial revolution as these disciplines rely heavily on the subject to solve problems by estimating outcomes.

Consequently, competency in mathematics is important to every individual and nations to solve problems and make decisions in domestic and business pacts, scientific works, and technological innovation in diverse circumstances of life.

It may be in consideration of these and other vital usefulness that mathematics is a core and compulsory subject at all levels of education as contained in nations’ educational policies, remaining the rallying point for all learners, especially at the pre-tertiary levels.

Additionally, some programmes offered at higher institutions of learning offer some elements of mathematics that play critical roles in the intellectual and social development of the learners.

This, notwithstanding, it is the only subject that is most dreaded to learners among all subjects offered in schools (Akinoso, 2011).

Why students fear Mathematics

The factors that contribute to the fearful nature of mathematics include teachers’ attitude and beliefs, content knowledge and pedagogical skills, leading to their ability or inability to teach the subject competently and in an interesting way to prepare the learner for the task ahead.

The second factor, is learners’ negative perception due to lack of interest which is mostly generated by the way teachers teach the subject, thus, creating the tendency for them not to respond to mathematical concepts confidently with negative feelings and worry.

Literature has shown that underachievement and poor performances in schools are characterized by the way mathematics is taught, however, indicating that the poor performance cannot be exclusively attributed to the culture of teaching and learning, but also the unavailability of resources and government’s inability to create the necessary learning environment to include high learner population in the classrooms, learners’ socio-economic background and their superficial notion about the subject coupled with parental and societal beliefs which generally affect academic performance negatively, hence poor performance in mathematics.

Learners are averse to mathematics because of the normal ways of teaching where teachers insist on using certain rigid skills which discourage learners from trying to invent new ways to do those things.

In this regard, abstract concepts and principles are often presented first and later illustrated with examples that may be far removed from the learners’ personal experiences or interests. Memorization of facts and algorithmic problem-solving skills are stressed, rather than conceptual understanding with its relationship to the things around the learner.

The new information transferred to the learner is assumed to fall into a pre-existing framework with all connections automatically displacing any other ideas and interests the learners may already have. This phenomenon may be due to inadequacy of teachers’ mathematics content knowledge and lack of rigorous certification with insufficient pedagogical competencies.

Nonetheless, the work of teachers who teach mathematics is to ensure that every learner receives the highest quality of instruction to understand mathematical concepts.


Therefore, effective mathematics learning is possible when teachers of mathematics especially those at the foundational levels have other alternative methods that introduces mathematical concepts through the use of simple real-life problems, games and plays to motivate the child to learn and understand the subject than the passive teaching traditional method.

In this context, mathematics teachers referred to all teachers who teach mathematics from the kindergarten to high school levels.

Again, learners’ poor achievement in mathematics is attributed to other factors such as inability of not having time to study, fear of figures, peer-pressure and lack of parental guide.

Teachers must therefore speak to learners about the negative conception of the subject and assure them to enjoy mathematics lessons as they also deliver in a manner that will give them the encouragement to study the subject.

However, to whip up learners’ interest in the subject, teachers use fewer challenging problems to save teaching time and to prevent learners from the possibility of becoming demotivated in learning the subject.

The possible explanation for this is that learners are unable to cope with high-order thinking tasks as they are already accustomed to being spoon-fed by their teachers for as long as they can remember.

In this regard, most learners in mathematics classes wait for their teachers to give solution to a problem in an attempt to avoid embarrassment due to wrong answers.


Even though the solutions are in the domain of the teachers, school administrators, curriculum developers, policy makers and government, mathematics teachers must avail themselves to professional development training in mathematics teaching which the author has made available to teachers especially to primary school teachers who teach all subject including mathematics.

The erroneous impression many people have about mathematics is that it is largely connected to intelligence and talent, which is why passing the subject challenged the learners.

These experiences make learners to escape from mathematics and give up their intentions and desires because of protracted failures, while others continue to learn the subject because of the interest and joy they have in learning.

In this situation, one is tempted to know how mathematics becomes a source of gratification for some learners and a source of fear and worry for others. More importantly, most individuals are being forced to learn the subject because of its requirement to many disciplines.

Individuals should rather see mathematics as a path that helps learners go a step forward in life to meet their desired goals.

To meet this desired goal, teachers should begin to whip up learners’ interest from the foundational levels as they help build their confidence for them to appreciate the subject as they grow.

Mathematics teaching and learning have been a problem even at the time Ghana had the best educational achievement in Africa.

A problem that learners, parents, teachers, education authorities and governments are continually grappling with, especially so, when it is offered almost at all levels and as a requirement for gaining admission to the next level of education in most programmes.

However, it is suggested that few learners develop conceptual understanding of the subject but are unable to use it in situations outside the classroom context.

This assertion is due to the fact that mathematics has often been taught using textbooks and past questions, quizzes and tests, which are not creative and activity oriented.

This instructional strategy confirms the fact that learners see the subject as abstract, therefore, struggle to find its relevance in their lives.

In this connection, the focus on the study of mathematics should shift from content-knowledge towards process skills and ability to apply same to real world situations.

School mathematics curriculum unintentionally acquired a universal status which unfortunately led many countries across the world including Ghana to view the subject as formal.

This position is inimical to realizing the national education goals because the official mathematics syllabi offer little opportunity to learners to learn basic mathematics concepts and acquire relevant skills that are required to understand the environment, function properly and contribute positively to national development.

Thus, mathematics as a universal subject makes use of symbolic notations which are similar across continents to provide means of communicating information, ideas and concepts for development. Teachers must take advantage of this universality of symbolic notation to teach the subject for learners’ clear understating of concepts.

The Author is a Quality Assurance Officer at the Ho Technical University