Long division, algebra, geometry, calculus, probability, prime numbers.
Just reading or hearing these concepts is enough to make most students shudder at the thought.
How often have you asked your child what subjects they covered in class that day, only to be met by a groan, followed by a forced “maths”, as though the word were stuck in their throat?
There’s no denying that maths is the world’s most unpopular school subject. It’s the one class many students dread walking into during their school day. Even students who achieve well in maths seem to not like the subject. The ones who do enjoy it are few and far between.
Yet, mathematics is arguably one of the most useful subjects learned in primary and secondary education. The concepts and skills developed from maths are used in a variety of ways in our adult life, more than we know.
So why is maths such a hated subject among students (and many adults)?
Firstly, is it a problem that most students seem to hate maths, or should it be viewed as something to be expected as part of the education journey – accepted as the norm?
In our opinion, it is a problem. A dislike for maths leads to disengagement when the subject is taught in class, resulting in a lack of understanding and poor performance.
The problem begins in primary school. It stems from the fact that many primary school teachers have poor mathematics skills, particularly because the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) for students to study teaching at university is relatively low compared to other professions. Many students enrol for a primary school education degree without completing Year 12 mathematics and yet are expected to teach maths to their students after they graduate[i].
Developing a deep and solid understanding of key mathematical concepts no longer seems to be a priority for Australian students, which can be seen in the fact that maths is not a compulsory subject in senior high school. Instead, students are offered a wide variety of subjects to choose from, including those who aspire to a career in teaching.
“I advise my students to listen carefully the moment they decide to take no more mathematics courses. They might be able to hear the sound of closing doors.”
On top of that, primary school teachers don’t specialise in any one subject and are expected to teach all primary subjects to students in their class, often teaching only one year group or stage for many consecutive years. It’s not just about how competent these teachers are in maths but also how the subject is taught. From researched performed by our founder, Dr Majeda Awawdeh, there appears to be little structure in how maths is taught, as teachers can choose to teach whatever they like within the Australian Curriculum and teach from a range of different textbooks[ii].
When teachers are not equipped to effectively teach maths, they may teach its concepts by the book and still not relate these concepts to real world scenarios in a way that helps students understand.
This lack of conceptual understanding can cause what’s known as “maths anxiety” and it’s more common than you think. According to research, 25% of 15-year-old students feel helpless doing a maths problem, and overall, 6-17% of the population experience maths anxiety[iii]. This contributes to both reduced confidence among students and challenging behaviour that makes teaching the subject even more difficult.
Teachers need to be aware of these behaviours as an indicator that the concepts taught are not making sense to students and draw on other approaches to help make maths more meaningful.
Do you remember asking the question in maths class: “When will I ever use this?” For years, students have questioned the relevance of maths concepts. It’s not until you leave school and enter the real world that you become aware of its countless benefits. Without realising it, we use mathematical concepts and skills in small ways every day.
Telling students that solving maths problems will help them develop useful critical thinking skills or taking mathematics as a Year 12 subject may help them land a future job, may not be enough. However, there are many practical ways we apply maths in our everyday lives that make it so important.
Some examples of how we use maths regularly include:
The laws of mathematics are key to helping our world function and govern many things around us. Maths could not be any more important.
Is your child struggling with mathematics? We’re here to help. To discover how Global Education Academy can help your child improve their mathematical skills and knowledge, book a Diagnostic Assessment with us today!