Mathematics remains a key subject for all
In the 2022 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams, more than 50 per cent of the candidates scored grades D and E in mathematics.
Students selecting degree and diploma courses are having a difficult time balancing their passions with the realities of their performance.
For instance, a student who scored a mean grade of B+, but a D+ in mathematics, cannot qualify for any health sciences or a bachelor of education degree. He will be forced to settle for courses whose career prospects and usefulness are questionable.
Professional and regulatory agencies such as the Council for Legal Education, the Nursing Council, the Clinical Officers Council, the TSC, and the Medical Practitioners and Dentists’ Council have placed stringent rules for those aspiring to join the profession.
A student who scores Grade A plain, but fails to score a B and above in one of the core subjects (Mathematics, English or Kiswahili, Chemistry and Biology) is not eligible for registration as a medical doctor in Kenya or East Africa. If he pursues a medical degree in another part of the world, this will haunt him when he seeks a licence to practice his craft in Kenya.
Mathematics is the only subject that lies at the centre of any career choice, but a quick check in Kenya will reveal that more students fail in mathematics than any other subject. The question that is often asked is why, for instance, a doctor needs mathematics, yet the profession is not anchored in numbers.
One, it is one of the few subjects that enhance logical reasoning and problem-solving skills. Mathematics exams are typically not lifted from books, unlike other subjects. A student would, therefore, need to learn how to solve the problem based on learned methods, while applying the reasoning domain.
This is unlike history, or even biology, where a student will give direct answers as read in a book. If we want our students to be logical thinkers, we should promote the learning of mathematics.
Secondly, mathematics requires that we bend our thinking and approach problems in more than one way. This inculcates flexibility and creativity. Students solve ‘problems’, while in other subjects, they provide ‘answers.’ Life itself comprises a series of problems and obstacles to be solved.
Thirdly, mathematics improves mental health. The brain domains involved in mathematical problem-solving are linked with the reward pathways. Hence when a student solves a problem, there’s an inner feeling of reward and achievement. This explains why most marks are earned through the problem-solving process rather than the answer itself.
Mathematics teaches a developing brain that the process is more important than the destination. We live in an era of instant solutions, a fact that enhances brain atrophy.
Learning mathematics is also about bringing up a generation that can analyse, critique, reason and hypothesize.
The focus should be on the kind of individual we want to nurture.
Dr Karau is a consultant physician, anatomist and Senior Lecturer at Kenya Methodist University’s School of Medicine.
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