In this publication, the National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST) presents the results of the Survey of Mathematics in Secondary Schools, 2006. This two-part enquiry surveyed teachers of Forms 1 to 4 in all government, government-assisted and private secondary schools in Trinidad and Tobago. The major objectives of this study were to compile data on the profile of secondary school teachers, training needs, choice of career, and difficulties encountered in teaching mathematics. The adequacy and availability of teaching aids and textbooks, teaching and evaluation methods, and students' attitudes towards mathematics and mathematical careers were also addressed in the enquiry.
The teaching and understanding of mathematics are essential to the total development of the student and by extension impacts directly on the level of numeracy in the population. The results of this study are therefore intended to provide data on key education indicators necessary for improving the quality of mathematics education to the benefit of all stakeholders.
Summary of Main Findings
Shortage of Mathematics Teachers
- This study shows a dearth of graduate teachers in mathematics with professional training in the government, government-assisted and private secondary schools. Of the sample of 161 teachers engaged in teaching Mathematics, 28% held a first degree in the subject and only 16% graduated in Mathematics and also obtained professional qualification.
- Of all 161 mathematics teachers, 57% graduated in various fields of study, mainly in mathematics (28%) and natural sciences (11%), and 33% possessed A'level qualification. Forty percent (40%) of all teachers were professionally qualified mainly with a Diploma in Education (19%) and a Teacher's Diploma (11%).
- The largest proportion (35%) of the sample of mathematics teachers reported service of less than five years while 30% indicated teaching experience of 15 years and over.
A Continuation of the Traditional 'Chalk and Talk' Teaching Method
- Two-thirds (66%) of the teachers indicated that computers were not available for use in mathematics by students. Of the percentage of computers available for use, 46% had access to the Internet for mathematics.
- One-half (50%) of the secondary school mathematics teachers who participated in the survey stated that they did not use the Internet as a teaching resource while 38% used it 'a little'.
- One-half of the teachers (53%) reported restricted use of calculators by students while one-quarter (25%) stated that calculators were not permitted.
- Approximately two-fifths of the teachers in each case indicated that, at every lesson students worked 'individually with assistance from the teacher' (39%) and 'together as a class with the teacher teaching the whole class' (41%).
- A significant proportion (89%) of the students never used computers in their mathematics class.
- Ninety-three percent (93%) indicated that teachers frequently showed them how to do mathematics problems.
Positive Attitudes towards Mathematics and Careers in Mathematics
- Overall, the majority of the mathematics teachers (60%) in secondary schools stated that teaching was their first choice as a career.
- Over three-quarters (79%) indicated that they were not desirous of changing to another career and two-thirds (67%) who did not report teaching as their first choice of career were similarly disposed.
- Most of the students surveyed agreed with the statements: 'I think learning mathematics will help me in my daily life' (94%), 'I need to do well in mathematics to get the job I want' (93%), 'I need mathematics to learn other school subjects' (85%) and 'I like mathematics' (81%).
- The majority (94%) of the secondary school students indicated that they used the computer while three-fifths (61%) had access to a home computer.
Instructional Time and Syllabus Content
- The study shows that the highest percentage of teaching time was spent on algebra which was identified as the most difficult area of the mathematics syllabus for students to conceptualise, followed by geometry and trigonometry.
- The data reveal that the most frequently performed mathematical activity was the practice of computational skills at 'every lesson' (36%) and 'most lessons' (52%).
- According to the students, activities including, 'the teacher shows us how to do maths problems' (93%) and 'we discuss our completed homework' (79%) occurred most frequently in their mathematics class.
- The majority of students surveyed, as in the case of the teachers, reported five mathematics periods each week.
Time Spent Outside the Formal School Day
- Teachers devoted more time, mainly between 1 and 2 hours, in planning lessons, preparing or grading student tests or examinations and in professional reading and development.
- Over one-third of the sample of secondary school mathematics teachers attended monthly (38%) or weekly (35%) meetings with other teachers in their subject area to discuss and plan curriculum and teaching methods.
- Only one-third (32%) attended curriculum workshops in mathematics and a considerably smaller percentage (13%) was exposed to workshops in assessment. By comparison, attendance at workshops in teaching methods (40%) showed some improvement.
- The data show that students devoted most time doing homework on a normal school day.
Adequacy and Use of Textbooks
- In general, a significant percentage (93%) of the teachers used textbooks to teach mathematics.
- Two-thirds (66%) used textbooks as a supplementary resource compared to one-third (34%) as the primary basis for their lessons.
- The majority (47%) of the students brought their textbooks to school for every mathematics lesson while one-third (33%) did so sometimes.
- A relatively large proportion (77%) of the sample of students stated that the STP Maths for the Caribbean Series Book1-Book4 was adequate compared to teachers (54%).
- A substantial percentage (71%) of teachers, especially in the state and state-assisted schools, assigned mathematics homework 'everyday' and one-quarter (25%) did so 'once or twice a week'.
- Over a half (58%) of the students surveyed indicated that teachers assigned mathematics homework 'every time'. The highest percentage (67%) of students who were assigned homework 'every time' was observed in the government-assisted schools.
Issues that Limited Teaching of the Subject
- On issues that limited their teaching of mathematics, a substantial percentage of teachers identified 'disruptive students' (47%), 'students who come from a wide range of backgrounds' (45%), 'parents interested in their children's learning and progress' (44%), and 'student absenteeism' (42%).
- A significant proportion (84%) of the teachers stated that threats to personal safety or the safety of students had little or no effect on the teaching of mathematics.
- Approximately three-fifths of the mathematics teachers reported no difficulty in planning lessons (62%) and assessment strategies (61%).
- Approximately a quarter (27%) of the sample of mathematics teachers gave extra lessons compared with two-thirds (67%) who did not.
- Three-fifths (61%) of the total sample of secondary school students did not take extra lessons or tutoring.
- Further examination of the data by form indicates that students in the higher Forms, 3 and 4, accessed extra lessons or tutoring more frequently than their counterparts in the lower Forms, 1 and 2.
Students' Academic Self-Concept
- A significant percentage (72%) of the total sample of secondary schools students expressed a desire to attain university-level education. The highest percentage of students desirous of obtaining this level of education was observed in the government-assisted (84%) and government secondary schools (71%).
- Almost all (97%) of the students surveyed agreed that 'lots of hard work and studying at home' was necessary to do well in mathematics at school, and a substantial proportion (71%) dispelled any notion to the contrary by disagreeing that 'good luck' was needed to perform well in the subject.