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‘Mathematics phobia in students’- A concern

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(National Mathematics Day)

By: M Ahmad

Mathematics is a study of measurements, numbers, and space, which is one of the first sciences that humans work to develop because of its great importance and benefit. The origin of the word “mathematics” is in Greek, which means tendencies to learn, and there are many branches of mathematics in science, that are related to numbers, including geometric forms, algebra, and others. Mathematics is a subject that determines individuals’ functionality in any given society. Mathematics can be defined as the science of numbers and space and the language of science and technology. Mathematics is a significant part of human logic and thoughts. It gives an effective way to create mental discipline and increases logical reasoning. Moreover, mathematical knowledge plays an essential role in understanding the concept of other subjects like science, social studies, and even music and art.


Mathematics is the pillar of organized life for the present day. Without numbers and mathematical evidence, we cannot resolve any issues in our daily lives. There are times, measurements, rates, wages, tenders, discounts, claims, supplies, jobs, stocks, contracts, taxes, money exchange, consumption etc, and in the absence of these sports data, we have to face confusion and chaos. It is an essentialrequirement in every field of intellectual endeavor and human development to cope with the challenges of life. Mathematics has become the companion of man and his helper since the beginning of human existence on earth. It is a powerful tool for global understanding and communication that organizes our lives and prevents chaos. Mathematics helps us understand the world and provides an effective way of building mental discipline. It encourages logical reasoning, critical thinking, creative thinking, abstract or spatial thinking, problem-solving ability, and even effective communication skills. Maths is used in several fields and disciplines. The concepts and procedures of mathematics are used to solve engineering, science, and economics problems.

Mathematics is often considered as a difficult subject by many students in schools education. Feeling mathematics as difficult for students affects not only their liking of mathematics but also their perseverance, interest, boredom and self-efficacy beliefs related to mathematics. Fear of mathematics is not only the case of the particular places or the persons but it is a global issue. The fear about mathematics is causing the students negative attitude towards mathematics and hindrance the learner from focusing on the problem which they are tackling. The fear of mathematics also tends to the learner get nervous especially during the time of the test or examination, fear clouds their minds and the students could not perform as well. Some of the reasons attributed to the fear of mathematics may develop earlier to the learner and may have several possible causes like: hereditary, social and environmental. Fear of mathematics may  create due  to the  influence of  the parents,  teachers, classmates  and seniors.  In the  same way, negative  perception towards mathematics also may cause the fear of mathematics. Mathematics, for many students, is no less furious than a demon. Many students feel sleepy as soon as they open the Mathematics book. Their score in mathematics is very less. They just give up saying that they can’t do it. Unfortunately, math avoidance leads to less competency, exposure and math practice, leaving students more anxious and mathematically unprepared to realize learning goals. This results in Math phobia.


Math Phobia may be defined as a feeling of anxiety that stops one from efficiently tackling mathematical problems. It may be a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance.  An individual with math phobia doesn’t necessarily lack ability in mathematics; rather, s/he can’t perform to her/his full potential thanks to the interfering symptoms of anxiety. Mathematics phobia or math anxiety can adversely affect the way your child learns and performs in the subject. The root causes of mathematics phobia, curriculum structure, schools facilities, instructional techniques, teachers’ teaching performance, use of tools and technology and evaluation system are the main. In the same way, lack of proper incentives for mathematics teachers and the negative perception of the students and teachers about mathematics are also the important causes. The study has revealed that mathematics phobia exists among students. Mathematics phobia is  regarded as mathematics weakness  in students  that  deals with psychological dimension of learning.  It is also defined phobia as learned emotional responses and it causes frequent severe and  intense anxiety. Many people have a negative  perception about  mathematics that it is an  extremely  hard subject  which  they  cannot  master. This  negative  perception  weakens  them  from  focusing  on  the  subject  and as  a  result  they  get comparatively less performance in the  tests or exams. Consequently, fear increases day by day towards  mathematics and eventually it develops in the form of phobia.

Mathematics phobia can  occurr due to different causes. like  lack  of different aspects  related to  teaching learning  like: good  teacher-student relationship,  use of students-centered/innovative  approach of teaching,  counseling,  positive  attitude  towards  mathematics,  improved  mathematics  curriculum,  breaking  down  topics  into  units, application of ICTs in teaching mathematics etc. can cause mathematics phobia. Thus mathematics phobia is mainly caused by the test and examination (due to the pressure to perform well), people (individual, parents, teachers and peers) due to  individual low  proficiency, parents  concept of difficulty,  teacher poor  knowledge delivery  and peers  negative feeling toward mathematics and nature of mathematics.  The following points may be also the cause of mathematics phobia: i) Weak teaching method and weak mathematics background ii) Teachers’ aggressive, stressful and irritating characteristics iii) Inability to solve mathematics problems iv) Bad relationships between a teacher and a student v) Inability to solve too much home assignment vi) Not to understand mathematics in class vii) Unable to solve mathematical tasks viii) Use of abusive words by teacher ix) Negative attitude towards mathematics x) Not able to solve mathematics problem in time xi) Not to be child-friendly teaching environment xii) Mathematics learning difficulty (dyscalculia) xiii) Community Influence (negative perception) xiv) Low self-esteem xv) Lack of analogies.

Mathematics phobia is a real problem that students and teachers are facing today. So, the mathematics teachers and parents especially need to understand the causes and effects of mathematics phobia as well as the ways to help students to overcome it. Different research shows that if teachers as well as the parents deal with the mathematics phobic student in time by different way to shift into positive mindset, it is not impossible. So many students may have suffered from mathematics phobia due to the result of several negative experiences and perception in the past.

It can be overcome by controlling anxiety, improving mathematics skills and developing positive attitude towards mathematics. The following steps are the main way forward from mathematics phobia and perhaps find a way to view mathematics in a more positive light. i) Reinforce the child’s sense of intelligence and skill in mathematics learning ii) Create a supportive environment for learning mathematics iii) Encourage the child to tackle in mathematics iv) Explain the child about positive uses of mathematics v) Familiarize the child into mathematics teaching aids  vi) Make mathematics teaching fun with games and puzzles vii) Avoid to compare the child’s abilities to others viii) Increase the use of instructional materials in teaching ix) Use of innovative and contemporary teaching approaches x) Develop and maintain close student-teacher relationship xi) Motivate students to treat mathematics positively xii) Provide access of reference material xiii) Use of modern facilities, devices, and tools xiv) Use of ICT in teaching learning situation xv) Make enough and effective practice of mathematics.

Math anxiety impacts students as early as the first grade by affecting their working memory. Working memory is like a ‘mental scratchpad’. It is important when we need to keep track of numbers. But this working memory can be 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 in math. Even for students who don’t struggle with math anxiety, it’s important to develop positive study habits that will help them as math becomes more complex.

Parents have to pay attention to children’s behaviour and see if they get upset specifically when they have to do the math. Positive reinforcement is a great way to help a child overcome math phobia. Instead of being negative when they get something wrong, parents should discuss the problems with them and emphasize the aspects that they got correct. Point out the skills that they have mastered and stay positive about the ones that still need some work. Children should be reminded that math skills aren’t learned automatically and that everyone learns at a different rate. While you may not want to allow visual distractions such as the TV or the internet, your child may prefer background music, or to study on the floor supported by pillows instead of sitting at a desk. So children should be allowed to adopt their own way after close observation.

It is important to eliminate the mathematics phobia of the students from the very beginning; otherwise, a simple mathematics phobia may gradually become a serious psychological problem. The students’ support system from home and school should be increased to develop positive attitude towards mathematics. The more a teacher understands mathematics phobia the more s/he will be able to prevent it and help the students to overcome it.

“Without mathematics, there’s nothing you can do. Everything around you is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers.” – Shakuntala Devi

“Mathematics is not about numbers, equations, computations, or algorithms: it is about understanding.” – William Paul Thurston

M Ahmad is a regular writer for this newspaper and can be reached at [email protected])

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