The rationale for secondary school students not pursuing mathematics in a higher secondary course

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Dr. Sajad Ahmad Mir

Is there a problem with mathematics education in Jammu and Kashmir? There has undoubtedly been some media coverage of this issue in recent years. In general, almost all higher secondary or intermediate schools in India, and particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, are experiencing a continuous decline in mathematics enrollment. This precipitous drop in mathematics enrollment must be addressed.

In particular, on the ground, it is found that the majority of the students are dissatisfied with mathematics, and they generally believe that there are other more suitable courses of study to undertake, and that the maximum marks are possible without taking a mathematics course. It was also discovered that secondary school students’ negative perceptions of mathematics were not new, but rather had existed since elementary school.

Evidence suggests that student enrollment in mathematics is decreasing not only in our UT or country, but also globally at the higher-secondary or intermediate school level. In addition, the number of undergraduate students studying mathematics at the college level is also falling in our country and various other countries. While mathematics is clearly indicated as a critically important subject for students, the number of students enrolling at the higher-secondary level is decreasing.

In the modern era, mathematics plays a predominant role, for example, in the teaching-learning process; technology knowledge has been integrated with content and pedagogy knowledge. And we know that mathematics is the language of technology. Galileo once said, “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the world”. As a result, we cannot afford a decline in secondary and then college mathematics enrollment, putting mathematics in jeopardy. Enrollment declines in mathematics imply declines in physics and other dependent subjects, which may not be a good sign for the state’s economic and development prospects. Higher secondary school and university education in India are comparable to those in other countries.

So, the issue of declining enrollments in higher-secondary or intermediate mathematics has sparked international interest. Nearly a decade ago, researchers in the United Kingdom investigated the reasons why students chose to stop studying mathematics at a young age. The main causes included the perceived difficulty in mathematics, negative cultural attitudes toward mathematics, lack of confidence in mathematics, a perceived dislike as well as boredom with the subject, and a lack of relevance overall. The perceived difficulty of the subject is either based on previous experience as learners or based on sources informing future expectations. The sources can be older students, siblings, and teachers, being three of the most important.

The importance of undertaking mathematics study has been argued largely on the basis of students learning key interdisciplinary knowledge for other courses, including science, technology and engineering. In addition to learning mathematics, students must also use the mathematics knowledge base to add intellectual value to new technologies, drive innovation and research capacities, and to help India compete globally.

However, the failure to produce a workforce with sufficient training in mathematics is considered a national concern for the economies of the Union Territory and India and for keeping the country as a competitor in the technological world. A mathematics course is also valued in a variety of higher degrees, with experts claiming that university success is dependent on the level of mathematics studied in senior secondary and higher secondary school. Moreover, in most cases, it has been found that students who undertake mathematics courses at the higher secondary level outperform their peers who only studied up to the secondary level.  Furthermore, the proportion of students who did not complete any mathematics in higher secondary school has increased many folds across all groups.

Let me discuss a possible solution for it. As we know, it is not necessary for students in almost all of our country’s states and UTs to study at least one mathematics or core science subject in each stream at higher secondary and college level. Such educational Policy and the increase in alternative subject choices are the main factors contributing to the
declining mathematics enrollments. Our policymakers can advocate for such provisions in the NEP-2020, particularly since Jammu and Kashmir, UT, will be the first in the country to implement the new education policy-2020. At the same
time, we also know the admissions policies at all universities in Jammu and Kashmir do not require subject prerequisites for entry into degree programmes. Pre-advanced level of higher secondary mathematics would have been recommended to university students at entry level.

In some cases, wherever required, a student can be advised to take university bridge courses to make up for any math deficiencies they have not learned at higher secondary school. Students should be made aware of the value of mathematics and that it is not boring but rather useful. Only a mathematics specialist or a teacher with a physics background should teach a student mathematics in a more enjoyable and relevant way, ensuring that students understand mathematics in previous years and drawing students’ attention to the importance of mathematics.This way, they can prepare them for post-secondary education.
Now I will draw readers attention towards an important fact, I realized, on the ground, that the students generally show a dissatisfaction with mathematics, which is characterised by different factors. Students’ short-term goals and attitudes toward mathematics; short-term goals included addressing students’ perceived discrepancies in complexity. An acknowledged mismatch between effort and reward of undertaking a more difficult course, either in administrative or academic positions.

Apart from that, students feel that the time and effort spent on undertaking a more difficult course is unrewarded. Moreover, it has been found that the associated heavy workload, increases the appeal of less demanding courses, and the perception of difficulty in mathematics courses influenced students’ decisions not to enrol in those courses.  In this connection, it is suggested that mathematics course at Higher Secondary level may be divided into two categories: pre-advance mathematics and advanced mathematics, Pre-advanced mathematics shall be made important for any stream of the subjects, and advanced mathematics for the non-medical stream only. Pre-advanced or entry level mathematics would aid in reducing this perceived disparity and, as a result, encourage more students to enrol in it. It has been found that students express a lack of interest or enjoyment in the subject, as well as a frequently acknowledge that the higher-level courses appear too challenging to study.

An important factor also came to light that at the Middle and secondary level, teachers with no specialization in mathematics are teaching mathematics courses, and similarly, teachers with no specialization in physics are teaching physics which really hampers progress. But again, as a part of the solution, either a special teacher in mathematics or a physics teacher should teach mathematics courses.

So, in the future, policy makers having mathematics education in mind with regard to improvement in mathematics enrolment, mathematics education is suggested to be divided in two parts Pre-advance mathematics course and advanced mathematics course. students may feel that undertaking an pre-advanced course, an easier mathematics course can allow a student additional time to focus on other courses in the selected stream at higher secondary level. The themes associated with this finding imply that students may be interested in taking a balanced approach to their studies, in which they can devote a comparable amount of time and effort to mathematics as they do to their other courses in the chosen stream for maximum benefit.

It may be appealing for higher secondary students. Such confidence is brought about by choosing a course where the content can be mastered and the level of stress associated with such mastery is not typically high compared with other courses in the stream. However, careful thought must be given by schools to counsel students to participate in mathematics courses that they will need in the future. In its place, a pre-advanced mathematics course up to the 12th grade should be made mandatory.However, advanced courses in mathematics have to be choice-based.

Now, as mentioned above, students are of the opinion that there is an insufficient reward offered for taking a higher or more advanced mathematics course. There are no incentives offered to students undertaking mathematics courses in higher education, and such courses are required neither for university entrance nor in later life. In the present educational pattern, a majority of students believe that they were discouraged from enrolling in a more difficult course due to a lack of incentivization, either financially or academically. It has been discovered that various tensions students felt toward mathematical courses contributed to their decision not to enrol in those courses.

These conferred tensions appeared to focus more on the students’ short-term goals, for example, achieving a higher grade in an easier course with less effort and stress rather than on the mastery of mathematical concepts required for a career or for further study. In this direction, some bonuses may be considered for students, which may be in the form of credits to be considered at the time of admission for various university courses or scholarships. Further, research efforts could be directed at asking the students of classes 11th and 12th the extent to which they feel their choice of a mathematics course prepared them adequately for the future (i.e., a longer-term goal).

As a senior academic at the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT), Bemina, Srinagar and Kashmir, I felt it was my responsibility to share my thoughts with the public and solicit feedback via my email address.

The writer is Sr. Academic officer (Physics), Department of Education in Science & Mathematics,

State Council of Educational Research Training (SCERT),Bemina, Srinagar, J&K-190010.

E-mail: [email protected]

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