The Survey of Mathematics in Primary Schools, 2007

In this publication, NIHERST presents the results of the Survey of Mathematics in Primary Schools, 2007.

The Survey of Mathematics in Primary Schools, 2007 studied Standards 1 to 5 teachers from a representative sample of public and private primary schools. Its major objectives were to compile data on the profile of teachers, their training needs, difficulties encountered in teaching mathematics and their perceptions of the subject. The adequacy and availability of school infrastructure and support systems available for the teaching of primary school mathematics were also addressed in the enquiry. This included access to mathematics education workshops, resource personnel, teaching and assessment methods, equipment and professional literature.

Primary education in mathematics is critical to the total development of the student in the formative years of learning. A supporting environment and adequately qualified and trained teaching personnel are essential indicators for students' participation and sustained interest in mathematics, science and technology. The results of this study are therefore intended to provide data on operationally relevant indicators necessary for improving the quality of mathematics education to the benefit of all stakeholders.

Summary of Main Findings

Data Highlights
  • Of the total sample of 213 primary school teachers, 23% were males and 77% females, representing a 1:3 male to female ratio approximately. By standard, however, the male to female ratio was 1:7 in Standard 1 compared to 1:2 in Standard 5. The educational district of Port of Spain, which had 9% males to 91% females or a 1:10 ratio, recorded the largest gender disparity, while the lowest was observed in St Patrick with 35% males to 65% females or a 1:2 ratio.
  • Females out-numbered their male counterparts in all types of school; in the government primary schools the male to female teacher ratio was 1:2 compared to 1:3 in the government-assisted primary schools. However, in the private primary schools the disparity in the male to female ratio of 1:8 reflected a more pronounced decline of the male teacher role model.
  • The largest percentage (40%) of teachers was observed in the 30 - 39 age group, followed by approximately one-fifth (22%) in each of the 40-49 and 50-59 age cohorts. Approximately one-third (30%) of the teachers in the private schools was less than 30 years of age compared to 2% in government and 16% in government-assisted schools.
  • Over a half (56%) of the sample of teachers reported service of 15 years and over, while one-fifth (20%) indicated teaching experience in each case of 5-9 years and 10-14 years.
  • The majority (71%) of primary school teachers reported Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC)/O'Level as their highest educational attainment in mathematics and a similar percentage (69%) had a teacher's diploma as the highest professional qualification. Over 90% of the teachers in the public primary schools were professionally qualified while one-quarter (26%) in the private primary schools held no such qualification. In addition, only 8% of primary school teachers were in possession of the B.Ed. degree, the stated qualification goal for all teachers.
  • Over ninety percent (94%) of the teachers used textbooks, mainly as a supplementary resource, to teach mathematics despite a substantial proportion (63%) who indicated that the texts were inadequate, especially in the lower Standards, 1 and 2. Over a half (56%) of the teachers in private primary schools stated that the texts were adequate compared to approximately one-third in the government (35%) and government-assisted schools (30%).
  • On the improvement of mathematics texts, a significant proportion (70%) of teachers stated that the prescribed texts should contain more activities/assessment exercises compared to the suggestions that texts should be in agreement with the syllabus (41%) and graded in terms of age-group/ability (36%).
  • The majority of teachers devoted one to two hours weekly in each case to preparing or grading student tests or examinations (50%), planning lessons (45%) and professional reading and development (34%).
  • The modal frequency with which teachers (46%) informed parents about student's achievement in mathematics was once a term; similar information was conveyed by one-third (32%) of the teachers monthly. Teachers in the private primary schools met more frequently with parents than their counterparts in the government and government-assisted schools.
  • Approximately one-third (30%) of the sample of primary school mathematics teachers indicated that meetings were held once a term with other teachers in their subject area to discuss and plan curriculum or teaching approaches.
  • The data revealed that while 46% of the mathematics teachers had a lot of influence on the subject matter to be taught, the response from the majority of teachers shows that they exerted considerably less influence on the acquisition of materials and supplies (29%) and specific textbooks (18%).
  • Almost all the primary school teachers (91%), especially those in the private schools (100%), agreed that the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination in mathematics prepared students in the subject for secondary school.
  • The modal number of mathematics period was ten (28%) each week, followed by five periods (26%) weekly. On a weekly basis, mathematics was taught more often in standards 4 and 5 than in the lower standards.
  • Approximately two-fifths of the sample of teachers identified fractions (22%), decimals (22%) and geometry (18%) as the most difficult areas of the mathematics syllabus for primary school students to conceptualise. The data, however, shows that the difficulty encountered with fractions in Standard 1 declined as students progressed towards Standard 5. A relatively large percentage of teachers of Standards 3 to 5 reported difficulty with decimals amongst students.
  • In general, the most frequently performed mathematical activity was the practice of computational skills at every lesson (41%) and most lessons (48%), followed by working in groups at every and most lessons as stated by 37% of the teachers accumulatively.
  • Three-quarters (76%) of the teachers assigned mathematics homework everyday mainly of duration 15-30 minutes (Tables 26 and 28). As students moved up the primary school system from Standard 1 to 5 homework assignment increased; three-fifths (57%) of the Standard 1 teachers gave homework everyday compared to almost all (98%) in the case of the Standard 5.
  • The most significant indicator used to determine students' progress in mathematics was teacher-made tests (100%), followed by responses of students in class (98%).
  • A significant percentage (81%) of the sample of mathematics teachers agreed that primary schools should operate like secondary schools, utilising teachers in specialised fields. There was also a substantial level of agreement (52%) that students need to learn to read and write before mathematics can be successfully taught. However, over a half disagreed that most teachers had an insufficient understanding of how children learn (63%), that they generally had an inadequate background for the teaching of mathematics (61%) and there was a lack of suitable mathematics literature in their schools (56%).
  • A substantial percentage of teachers identified the lack of parental interest in children's learning and progress (62%), student absenteeism (55%), disruptive students (51%), students who came from a wide range of backgrounds (46%) and the shortage of instructional equipment (43%) as key issues affecting the teaching of mathematics.
  • A significant proportion (85%) of the primary school teachers, especially in Tobago (94%), St. Patrick (92%), Caroni (90%) and Victoria (88%), had attended mathematics workshops, to which exposure at least once in the last five years was reported by 86%.
  • Attendance at workshops on teaching methods (79%) was considerably higher when compared to assessment (47%) and curriculum (41%).
  • By attending workshops in mathematics most primary school teachers (83%) benefited from exposure to new teaching techniques and over a half (59%) from alternative forms of assessment and the provision of content knowledge (55%).
  • Generally, the problems teachers encountered when applying the content of workshops were lack of time (66%), mainly in the educational districts of South Eastern (94%), Victoria (82%), St. George (73%) and North Eastern (73%), and lack of materials (57%), especially in Caroni (77%).