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A mathematical problem | Academics say no to GMAT

Children with dyscalculia have little or no sense of numbers
Feb 02: Solving simple numerical questions, telling the time or counting money can prove to be a huge task for some children. It may be dismissed for their not being good in mathematics by the elders but who could have thought that they might be suffering from a condition? Such children could very well be dyscalculic.

Dyscalculia is a serious problem. The word means "counting badly" in Latin. Children with dyscalculia have little or no sense of numbers. Such children may display good performance in other areas of learning but not in maths. What is most surprising is that every three to four children in a classroom of about 40 students suffer from the disorder.

There are several types to this disorder such as genetic, mental, physical or environmental dyscalculia. Sometimes a head injury may also weaken the child's ability to calculate. This inability is known as post-lesion dyscalculia.

A student with dyscalculic tendencies will hate maths. He would be most frustrated during the maths period and may even try to bunk class. Such students hate going to school too only due to their disliking for maths. They fake illness every morning or at the beginning of the maths period. Educators name this attitude "math anxiety" or "math phobia".

For a dyscalculic child his math teacher is a scary and frightening figure. He develops a strong dislike for him or her. In severe cases, he sees the math teacher as a monster.

The problem is that you just cannot survive without maths. It is a part of everything. So it is always helpful if the child acquires basic skills such as telling the time, counting money, taking measurements, etc., as early in life as possible. Maths helps students learn how to evaluate situations better and make right judgments. Experts believe that math proficiency is a general indication of intelligence.

Parents should help their children realise that they must practice mathin order to get ahead in their careers. All professionals from computer programmers, bankers, doctors, engineers to marketing executives require a sturdy foundation in maths.

A teacher should know the symptoms of dyscalculia to help the student suffering from it overcome his academic weakness.

Learning difficulties in maths make it difficult for the child to visualise number relationships so he is unable to perform simple subtraction, multiplication and addition tasks. He cannot remember tables too. Mathematical symbols such as +, -, x, etc., are also very confusing for him. It is difficult for him to understand when to subtract or add despite the symbols and signs telling him what to do. And he often mixes up the order of numbers such as '34' to '43'. It is difficult for him to follow directions as well (north, south, east and west) for finding locations. He often finds it difficult to keep a record of the scores during games and matches.

But it must be mentioned here. Despite the fact that many students have difficulty in maths, they are not dyscalculic. A qualified teacher should be aware of the level of a child's disability to learn maths. An educator says: "Teaching maths is an art and it requires patience, desire and persistence. Without the teacher's help, a student will be a sufferer of dyscalculia."

A survey by the United States Educational Department revealed that in America 93 per cent of high school graduates cannot solve two-step problems involving variables, or identify equal algebraic equations, or solve linear equations and inequalities. The situation is not very different in our country. Students here take maths to be a very complicated subject.

Many primary-section students complain that their teachers concentrate more on finishing the maths syllabus rather than worry about their understanding the basic concepts. Meanwhile, many secondary school students find it confusing and frustrating to work out fractions, percentage and other simple arithmetic problems.

Aisha, who studies in a highly-reputed school, enjoys English and science classes but dislikes maths because she cannot grasp her teacher's way of teaching. Simple tasks become difficult and complex because most of our teachers are unaware of the fact that maths is not merely a part of their curriculum, it is more of a "second language".

Just like in English, there is more than one way to express an idea in maths too. There are six linguistic elements of the language symbols in maths - concepts, vocabulary, syntax, voice, and translation. Each element demands activities that impart knowledge or skill to its learner.

Students in the classroom have different levels of learning abilities. Some learn maths by going for those activities which ensure their participation. On the other hand, many prefer to learn from visual aids (picture, graph, charts). A dyscalculic child needs extra time to learn, therefore, the teacher should try and provide him with a one-on-one environment. Therefore, to teach effectively, a teacher must know about the learning style of each individual student.

Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist remembered for his studies of cognitive development in children, believed that children's ability to learn maths is disturbed when they are not taught to learn hands on maths between the ages of one and 12.

It means that the child learns mental arithmetic more effectively between the ages one and 12. Parents should familiarise the child with maths activities from his or her first year. Since he learns by touching objects at this age, the parents should introduce him to toys which are designed to increase children's thinking skills. The wooden abacus with its colourful beads on rods is one such useful toy. Such toys are helpful in the development of prerequisite counting and calculation skills.

Children often inherit maths disabilities from either of their parents. If the parents lack an aptitude for maths, chances are that the child will inherit a disability to calculate.

Organised efforts from parents and teachers are vital in teaching math skills. Parent-teacher meetings therefore play an important role to understand the causes of math problems. A genetically-disabled child hardly achieves notable success in maths, but organised efforts may enable him to perform some everyday math tasks. Same is true for a mathematically gifted student. He also needs help from qualified teachers to polish his natural abilities.

The teaching method plays a vital role in the student's achievement. According to a report, a majority of dyscalculia cases are exclusively caused by the failure to acquire math fundamentals in school. Having a learning problem in math doesn't mean that the child is lacking the ability to learn number relationships. Such children demand a longer than normal time period from their parents and teachers.

An experienced math teacher is acquainted with effective teaching methods and tools. He usually concentrates on surmounting the student's learning difficulties. For example, if counting is causing problems for a student, the teacher should focus his attention to overcoming this weakness in the child. He can help the child cope with the problem through the repetition and practice method. Without correcting his mistakes in counting, it will be quite impossible for the teacher to teach him simple concepts of addition or division.

The performance of girl students in mathematical studies has had a huge question mark attached to it for years now. How many prominent women mathematicians does one come across in history. A common conception is that girls lack the tendency to learn maths. Many experts have rejected the gender specific construction of the brain and its functions. An experienced teacher states: "Women avoid maths not because of any inability but because they have been conditioned to stay away from studying the subject."

A recent study shows that the performance of girls and boys in math studies is the same till secondary school. There are so many girls with a passion for mathematics at that age but our communal setup with gender differences prevents them from pursuing the subject.

Linking math studies with everyday experiences makes it easier for the child to overcome his numeration weaknesses. Connecting math activities to the child's hobbies and favourite things may provide further benefits. Firstly, it evokes his interest and second, it helps him get rid of his fears of learning math. The more he realises the importance of maths in daily life, the more will he be interested in performing mathematical tasks.

A good way to teach maths skill is to give the child some pocket money every week. Allow him to buy whatever he wants from this money. In the meantime instruct him to keep a record of his expenses and savings in a diary or notebook. Parents here can also take help from modern technology. There are several online games available that are intended to increases math abilities in children.

There are so many children who enjoy gardening. Parents can utilise this interest to make them think mathematically. For example, ask them to take 10 seeds of two easy-to-grow flowers or herbs (marigold, coriander). Now paint two pots - yellow for marigold and green for coriander. Help your child sow these seeds and ask him to make a note of the number of seeds planted. When the seeds sprout after few days, ask the child to count the seedlings and subtract the findings from the total number of seeds planted. You may give him more seeds later on and ask him to add the number to the previous number of seeds in his copy. It is a creative way of providing fun while learning to the child.

Since maths here is seen as a second language, one way of teaching it to students can be to translate sentences into math. For example, half a cup of tea can be translated as cup tea or 50 per cent tea in a cup.

Another simple exercise may comprise collecting objects such as pencils, erasers, sharpeners and measuring scales in a box. Now ask the child to count the total number of objects in the box. Then instruct him to separate all objects and count the pencils or erasers. Next, you can guide him to divide the number of pencils from the total number of objects. Addition or multiplication tasks can be taught in a similar way.

A teamed up effort from the parents and teachers can help children get rid of their maths phobia. -By Zarina Patel,

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Punjab academics say no to GMAT
Lahore: The Punjab Government Schools Senior Staff Association has announced boycott of GMAT for the training of administrative officers and subject specialists to be held on Feb 7 and 8, saying it will hold a protest demonstration against it outside the Civil Secretariat on Feb 6.

At a press conference here on Sunday, association president Hafiz Abdul Nasir and other office-bearers said there was no justification for the test because all the administrative officers of the education department had been selected by the Public Service Commission and posted after the approval of the provincial chief minister. And such a test had not been prescribed for the training of the PCS and CSP officers either, they added.

They said GMAT was usually prescribed for admission to foreign universities, but the Project Management and Implementation Unit had prescribed it for in-service training of the officers instead. Government funds would be wasted by entrusting the training of the education department officers to the Government College University instead of the Directorate of Staff Development responsible for the training of the staff, they said. Dawn

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