Numbers and tackling our school's mathematics crisis

In 2016 the Government invited the National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) to implement the Teacher Upgrade Programme, which is basically upskilling Samoa’s teachers who would graduate with a bachelor of education at the end of the programme.

The Government initiative at that time was a step in the right direction, after the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.) discovered that less than 10 per cent of teachers in Government, mission and private schools in Samoa possessed a teaching degree. The percentage at that time translated to 129 out of 1,300 Samoan teachers.

Under the Government’s five-year-plan, all practising Samoan teachers would have a bachelor of education by this year.

But with the academic year three weeks away from starting, and close to five years after the N.U.S. began running the programme, research published last month in an international education journal, Pacific-Asian Education (Volume 31, 2019) reveal all is not well with its implementation.

The N.U.S. is struggling to meet the demands of the programme according to the research’s findings, which were published in an article in the January 5, 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer.

The challenges include teachers undertaking the programme not being supported by their school principals; poor communication between M.E.S.C. and N.U.S. on the programme’s implementation; the scheduling of the programme and its clashing with the lecture hours of the university’s education undergrads; and poor internet connectivity which made access to the course material difficult.

Despite the challenges, the researchers say there has been some success, and there should be more effort by the programme’s stakeholders to ensure its overall success when it concludes at the end of 2020.

However, these are not the only challenges to plague the programme, with the research also revealing a refusal by teachers doing the N.U.S. course to take the Foundation Mathematics courses.

In an article in the January 8, 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer, the teachers told the research authors that the university’s mathematics course was “too advanced and irrelevant to the needs” of their primary and secondary school students.

The refusal by the teachers comes in the face of M.E.S.C. findings of fewer than 15 per cent of Samoa’s Year 13 students passing their Samoa School Leavers Certificate (S.S.L.C.) mathematics exams each year since 2013.

The Ministry says mathematics pass rates in Samoa have dipped since examinations became localised with rates dropping from 40 per cent the year before to 1 per cent in 2014 – just 16 out of 1,369 Year 13s passed the 2014 exam – and in 2018 less than 15 per cent passed.

Looking at the results of the mathematics exams over the last five years, we can already draw the conclusion that Samoa’s education sector is facing a mathematics crisis, which has and will impact our children’s education and future.

We consider it unacceptable that teachers in some schools are making unilateral decisions on which mathematical units to teach our children, based on their personal views of ‘advance or basic mathematics’ and ‘relevance’.

The primary and secondary school curriculum should be their guide and should not give teachers the option to make those decisions based on their personal views. If the teachers are making those choices because the curriculum is out of date, then it is within the remit of the M.E.S.C. to begin work to update the curriculum.

As we emphasised earlier, the objectives of the Government’s initiative to upskill teachers under its Teacher Upgrade Programme are noble, and we congratulate the 230 primary and 88 secondary school teachers who have graduated.

But any refusal by teachers to not undertake all components of the programme, including the N.U.S. Foundation Mathematics course should not be entertained by the M.E.S.C., as their employer and regulator of Samoa’s education sector.

In fact those teachers who are finding it difficult to upskill themselves under the programme should be asked to voluntarily resign, and not stand in the way of our children’s education, who deserve the best in a highly evolving technological world.

The Government has already expended $1 million to fund the programme’s implementation to date, consequently there is no turning back and the teachers currently undertaking the programme in its final year of implementation, should give it their best shot and graduate.

But questions remain on whether Government had allocated adequate resources, and if there was enough consultation between the M.E.S.C., N.U.S. and the teachers identified for the training, following revelations by N.U.S. Deputy Vice Chancellor, Peseta Dr. Desmond Lee Hang in the January 8, 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer that they had to reduce student numbers in order to cater for the teachers.

Nonetheless, with our lives in the 21st Century increasingly revolving around the use of technology, we want our next generation to appreciate the significance of learning about numbers, mathematical concepts, and their application in everyday life. 

Have a lovely Friday Samoa and God bless.

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