Taming the ‘maths monster’

Taming the ‘maths monster’

MASERU – ’MAKHOTSO Lecheko knows that to land a highly rewarding career, her daughter will need Mathematics. So when her 12-year-old daughter Khauhelo showed signs of struggling with the subject during her Grade 7 classes last year, Lecheko wasted no time taking action.

Khauhelo was immediately enrolled with the Universal Concepts of Mental Arithmetic Systems (UCMAS), a programme that focuses on improving mathematical skills for pupils.
UCMAS is a brain development and mental arithmetic programme operating in 78 countries. In Lesotho, it was launched in 2012 and it is already making a difference in the lives of pupils struggling with Mathematics.

To enable them to excel academically and in life in general, children from the age of 4 to 13 are taken through a programme that helps improve their judgment, memory, confidence, concentration, calculations speed and imagination.

Khauhelo is now in Form A at Lesotho High School and her mother is not regretting enrolling her into the programme.

“A few months after joining the programme, her performance in Mathematics improved,” Lecheko says.
Khauhelo’s teachers were also impressed with her sudden improvement, Lecheko says.
So dramatic has been Khauhelo’s progress that she has qualified to enter the 22nd edition of the International UCMAS competitions in Malaysia.

UCMAS competitions are touted as “a breakthrough in thinking education which directly stimulate children animation memory, enhance children instinct thinking, logical thinking, understanding thinking, divergence thinking, optimization, creative thinking, inspiration thinking, visual thinking and afflatus thinking”.
Lecheko is prepared to continue paying for Khauhelo’s UCMAS programme because of the rewards that accompany mathematical skills.

According to the Times of India, Mathematics helps make life orderly and prevents chaos.
Certain qualities that are nurtured by Mathematics are power of reasoning, creativity, abstract or spatial thinking, critical thinking, problem-solving ability and even effective communication skills.

Lecheko says due to the costs of participating at the International UCMAS competition, she has considered asking her daughter to skip the competition but later decided to hustle hard to raise the money.

’Matebello Lebitsa-Tsibane enrolled her daughter Reitumetse into the UCMAS programme when she was only nine years old last year.

Reitumetse, a pupil at Mohale’s Hoek English Medium, was among the qualifiers for the 22nd UCMAS international competition.

And now she possesses “great” Mathematics skills.
“She is able to solve 200 questions in eight minutes,” says Lebitsa-Tsibane, noting that financial challenges were the major hurdle.

“There is no sponsor for the children who have qualified for international competitions,” she says.
Nyenyane Ntaote, whose daughter, Tlotliso Raliapeng was among the qualifiers described the lack of sponsors as “painful”.

The UCMAS Lesotho chapter held the qualifying competitions in partnership with Universal Educational Group South Africa on Saturday, with over 300 students participating in the programme.
The students were divided into categories of tan gram, twin-gram, flashcard and listening competitions.
Elizabeth Ramolula, a Mathematics teacher at St Mary’s kindergarten school in Mohale’s Hoek, said the programme has been useful in improving children’s skills.

Ramolula says she works with children between the ages of four and six, most who can solve up to 120 questions in eight minutes.

Her school began participating in the UCMAS programme in 2014 and that same year several of her students qualified for an international competition in Dubai where a six-year old student grabbed second position.
The Franchisee of UCMAS Lesotho, James Mabeta, said the programme helps kids in areas such as observation, memorising and concentration.

“If your concentration and memorisation are good it means you can grasp a lot of things and remember most of the things taught in class,” Mabeta says.
“Each year we have the national competitions which enable kids to qualify for international competitions,” he says, adding that 19 pupils who went to Malaysia last year all received trophies and medals.

“The only challenge is that parents cannot afford to send their children to international competitions,” Mabeta says.
Some of the best performers last year were unable to travel to Malaysia because their parents could not afford to meet the costs.
Programmes such as UCMAS are badly needed in Lesotho.
According to the World Bank, Basotho students’ level of learning in primary school is the third lowest in the southern African region despite high public spending on education.
“The quality is equally low at the junior secondary level where only one-fifth of students pass Mathematics and Science in the end-cycle examination.

“In addition, only about 62 percent of the cohort that enters Grade 1 completes primary school and 42 percent completes junior secondary school, respectively,” according to the World Bank 2016 research.
National University of Lesotho lecturer, ’Mamosa Ntšohi, says students have serious difficulties to learn Mathematics.

In her PhD dissertation in education in 2013, Ntšohi says the teaching of algebra in middle school grades in Lesotho was dominated by a mechanistic approach where learners are drilled on procedures for solving certain types of problems in algebra, without making any connection to the experience learners had with arithmetic.
“This is one of the sources of learners’ difficulties in Mathematics,” Ntšohi says.
“Mathematics is one of the subjects given high status in national curricula. This is in realisation of its usefulness to humankind,” Ntšohi says.

Mabeta believes that mathematical problems that are fun can motivate students to enjoy the subject.

’Makhotso Rakotsoane

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