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Tackling maths phobia among students through competitions

By Olumide Bajulaiye

MANY students claim not to like mathematics. But for some, the issue with maths is more than simply disliking algebra or fractions.

Mathematics
Mathematics

For some students, maths anxiety impacts them by affecting their working memory, disrupted by math anxiety in both elementary and secondary school students. This can lead students with math anxiety to be as much as half a school year behind their peers. Even for students who don’t struggle with maths anxiety, it’s important to develop positive study habits that will help them as the subject becomes more complex.

Research has confirmed that maths anxiety is linked to poor performance, and can make teaching the subject a daily struggle. So, how can teachers help students overcome their fear? How can they instil a love for a subject that so many students find intimidating? The 16th Annual National Mathematics Competition, ANMC, organised by the Nigeria Tulip International Colleges, NTIC and the National Mathematical Centre, Abuja held last week, aimed at rewarding hard work for pupils who really devoted much time to surmount the phobia, which their peers associate with mathematics.

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According to the managing director of NTIC, Sabri Unal, who is also a mathematics teacher himself, even with almost 40,000 participants in 2019, the school hopes to increase the number of contestants in the coming years. “We are helping to remove the maths phobia among primary school pupils especially and being one of the key subjects to anything in the world, one needs to be successful in mathematics.

“For the students, they should trust themselves, concentrate on what they are doing and rediscover the power they really have in themselves to be abreast with whatever life brings along in the future. It’s no surprise that confidence is a huge factor in students’ anxiety towards mathematics. Previous negative experiences with the subject can lead to a negative and defeatist attitude. To overcome this, you should provide students with regular confidence-building exercises that look challenging but enable all students to do well. This boost in confidence and self-efficacy can decrease anxiety and fear, as students feel more and more capable and motivated,” Unal said.

According to him, the competition is organised in four zones. “What has happened here today is the same way NTIC is organising in three other locations – Kaduna, Lagos and Ogun. And, there are other students whom we are also giving different percentages of scholarships, though they are not mentioned here.”

Unal disclosed that for 16 years, NTIC has been promoting effective teaching and learning of maths at the primary level and developing greater capacity through its Annual National Mathematics Competition. “The main reason for the competition was to deal with the phobia for mathematics among our children because maths is the foundation for anything you want to do or be in life and the competition has helped in achieving this objective,” he said.

During the ceremony, the top three positions were awarded with full tuition plus cash prizes that ranged from N100,000 to N300,000. Their mathematics teachers were not left out as they too received cash prices up to N200,000. The first position went to Ejezie T. Euzebius from Mount Olive School, Anambra State, while the second and third positions were taken by Jessica James from Pleroma International School, Port Harcourt and Tamunodumotein Sekibo from Tender Year Preparatory School, Abuja, respectively.

The coordinator of the exam, Mr. Yerkin Shaimerdenov,   disclosed that since the inception of the competition in 2003, 171,631 pupils across Nigeria   had participated in it and NTIC had offered 100 per cent scholarship that covers tuition plus hostel fee for six years (throughout secondary school) to 180 outstanding students who had participated in the competition.”

The first prize winner, Euzebius, who was full of happiness and fulfillment, said that what helped him was that he read his books and stayed up in the night with the help of his mother.

Mr. Anoli Theophilus, his mathematics teacher said: “I feel very excited that our efforts in the final analysis yielded fruit. For more than a year now, we have been grooming him. The boy is a very smart person and has confidence in himself; he will always take things seriously as he is disciplined. Education without character is not complete. There is this component of discipline and character that plays a very big role in making one learn.”

For Dr. Steve Dele Oluwaniyi, who represented the national director of the National Mathematical Centre, Abuja, the annual national mathematics competition is a very laudable project and is worth emulating and improving upon.

“NTIC has been doing a lot towards improving the teaching and learning of mathematics in Nigeria right from the basic level to the Olympiad. We have almost 40,000 candidates participating in the competition this year and the preparation of the questions, marking and awards were not easy.”

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“Mathematics is so strategic and fundamental that there is nothing one can achieve either organisationally or individually without putting a premium on the study of mathematics,” he said.

In his response, Muazu Omeji, Principal of NTIC Boys Boarding Section in Abuja, noted that as a school, the NTIC believes that mathematics is the core of any academic endeavour that one wishes to embark on and this made management decide that there is need to organise this kind of competition.

He said: “As it is now, the competition is held nationwide. One of the benefits of the competition is that because of the kind of grooming we give them, so many of the students have won scholarships to study in universities, both locally and internationally.”

Aniekan Ekpo, a mathematics teacher from Cross River State, said: “It has been an annual competition for us since 2003. Students sit for the exams in various states and before, there used to be three slots for states but now, it has been increased to five. The best five students from the states are invited to come to Abuja, then we chose the best 12 who are individually given prices.”

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