Harnessing and empowering female talents in Mathematics

*Prof. I.K. Dontwi, Dean Faculty of Physical Science KNUST, Kumasi*

*Mr. Chairman, Fellow teachers, distinguished guest, ladies and gentlemen and all gathered in here.*

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Last year, Ghana celebrated 50 years of her political independence. It is necessary particularly at this time to review and reflect on our capacity to sustain and consolidate that independence in terms of her ability to emerge from widespread poverty, ignorance and squalor in order to come to grips with the technological challenges of the 21^{st} century, assuming a respectable role in the global village.

The tools for success in this modern advanced technological environment are actually not far fetched: they are rooted firmly in a culture of mathematics, science and technology. It is clear that those economies in the world today who have taken this culture seriously are leading whereas those economies in which this culture has played little or no role find themselves lagging behind and their very survival threatened.

If Ghana is to achieve the millennium development goals and go beyond to attain the status of a successful knowledge based economy, she must ensure that her youth, are equipped with strong skills in mathematics and the basic science.

There is the need to strengthen the teaching of mathematics at the Senior High School level. My conviction is that such a strategy would constitute an effective and powerful way of positioning the youth of this country to handle many of the other disciplines of science and technology with dexterity and insight. This is because more than ever before and increasingly, mathematics has become the basis of much of modern industry, commerce and science.

The Ghana economy requires Mathematics that can effectively put science and technology in the forefront of nation building.

Mathematics is a core subject from primary through Junior High school to the Senior High School levels of our educational system. This important position occupied by the subject in the school curriculum is borne out of the role mathematics plays in scientific and technological development, a sine qua-non in national building.

Mathematics is widely regarded as the language of science and technology, the bedrock that provides the spring board for the growth of technology. “Without Mathematics, there is no science and without science there is no modern technology there is no modern society”.

In other words, mathematics is the precursor and the queen of science and technology and indispensable single element in societal development”.

From the era of formal Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry and the likes through the period of classical mathematics and modern mathematics, there have always been changes; mathematics being a dynamic subject. But these changes, directly or indirectly, have always been necessitated by the realization of the role mathematics should play in scientific and technological development as well as in response to societal needs and demands.

Mathematics education

Mathematics education is therefore indispensable in nation building.

Mathematics simplifies the presentation and understanding of complicated issues through the summary of complex and tedious analysis into schematic diagrams, flow charts, graphs and equations.

Mathematics teachers form the vehicle through which mathematical concepts and their values can be disseminated. As they teach the subject, teachers of this indispensable natural subject should fashion out relevant strategies to demystify the concepts of mathematics.

Mathematics teachers therefore constitute the backbone of the larger society. If they fail to take up the challenge and assert themselves well on the economic and social life of the individual and the nation as a whole, then it implies we will all fail together.

Students need modes of instruction that are suitable for increased emphasis on problem solving, applications and higher order thinking skills. For example, cooperate learning allows students to work together in problem-solving situations to pose questions, analyze situations, try alternate strategies and check for reasonableness of results.

Moreover,

– Students should experience mathematics as active, engaging and dynamic.

– Students should learn to view mathematics as a human discipline to which real people of diverse backgrounds have constituted. Therefore, mathematics instruction should acquaint students with the history of mathematics and its numerous connections to the other disciplines.

– Classroom activities should be organized to build on students’ previous experience.

– Teachers should use a variety of teaching methods and should employ a broad range of examples.

– Students should be given the opportunity to participate in mathematics discourse to build their confidence about knowing and using mathematics.

Indeed, in the world of reality, the values drawn from the training in mathematics are the same ones people depend on as they unravel the practical problems that beset their lives.

The ability to examine the many angels of a problem is important in finding better solutions. With critical alertness, one who is adept at mathematics readily spots an error and exposes what is wrong, especially if such mathematics chooses to serve a public servant, a classroom teacher, or an ordinary citizen who practices what is right and good for the country and his fellowmen.

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**The learner and the content viewed as separate and fixed entities**

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As a number of educators have pointed out, teachers tend to think of these two variables in static terms, as **givers** that somehow must be adjusted in their present form.

Because the curriculum consists of our own set of fixed demands, teachers are often in quandary about how to proceed: should one assign top priority to the learner’s “needs” or to those of the curriculum?

Unable to serve two masters at once, most teachers emphasize one or the other factor in their instructional planning. This separation of learner and content is highly problematic.

Fortunately, there is an alternative: I will urge you to use the interactive approach to instructional decision making that assigns equal weight to judgement about what students need to know and how they are constructing the knowledge.

If teachers downplayed the importance of individual differences in instruction, the negative effect of this way of thinking about students would be negligible. Unfortunately, this seldom happens. Teachers should assign much more importance to individual differences. Many believe that the best way to accommodate individual differences is to employ a variety of presentation methods (i.e. both teaching and hands-on approach) and to involve students in a number of different learning contents.

Thus, the focus must be two-sided: first, the teacher should attend to the diversity of understanding students develop when wrestling with important ideas in the specific subject matter domain.

Secondly, the teacher should carefully attend to how individuals interpret various content variables, like the norms of discourse that prevail in the subject matter domain.

This particular factor plays a key role in influencing the extent to which students are willing and able to express the ideas during teaching. If the norms are viewed in such a way that students feel at risk when venturing opinions, they are much less likely to participate in classroom discourse. Teachers are therefore encouraged to teach in a way that involves students more directly in the learning of mathematical concepts.

Workshops of this nature serve as a platform to brainstorm the opportunities that are there to promote the requisite resources for the realization of the antecedents that are part and parcel of our economic and social survival.

It is hoped that teachers will take up the challenge and assert themselves in role of being the life blood of our quest for economic and social survival.

As a start, mathematics teachers should be viewed as crucial agents of change within the education reform effort currently under way and thus should be expected to play a key role in changing schools and classrooms **with a sustainable long term positive impact on our nation Ghana.**

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**Focus on women**

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We need to find ways of ensuring that girls and children from poorer communities are able to complete their primary and secondary education.

There is a need for the universities to empower women to take up studies in the field of science and technology.

To find ways of how best women in Africa can actively participate in the field of science and technology.

Women universities will help raise the standards of teaching and learning among fellow women.

We need to overcome barriers that continue to exclude the girl child and women from the study of science and technology.

It is high time women in Africa pushed for the “demystifying” of mathematics, science and Information and Communication Technologies.

If we wish to change this perception we need to firstly communicate in ways which make these subjects attractive.

In this way we can create a popular understanding of science, mathematics and ICT, which will not only attract students, but will also lead more people to understand how these subjects work and can work in the interest of everyone.

It is heartening to note that there is a growing, common understanding in Africa that gender equity, equality and empowerment are vital to ensuring an integrated, developed, prosperous and peaceful continent.

There is also a growing recognition, in Africa, of the need to deal with the structural obstacles that impede women’s full participation in society. Africa’s development as a continent cannot be separated from the development and education of Africa’s women.

Without the development and emancipation of women, Africa could never be free, prosperous and peaceful.

African women are still under-represented in the mathematics, science and technology and engineering fields owing to numerous social, economic and cultural barriers.

Despite the numerous challenges, there is a steady growth in enrolment of girls and some African countries were registering impressive results from initiatives to promote the girl-child’s interest in science and technology.

According to the UN’s Report on Africa for 2007, enrolment at primary schools in Sub-Saharan Africa in 1999 stood at 57% and increased to 70% in 2005 – an increase of 13% in six years.

But what happens to this impressive statistics as we go up the educational ladder? The picture is different but not hopeless. We all must together change this trend.

My VC initiated a programme last admission period by admitting all female qualified applicant to Mechanical Engineering Department. I hope that we should be able to lobby such unequatted programme for the girl child who chooses mathematics. This course must be advanced we shall work to achieve something in this direction. So choose to learn math, to Dream mathematics and to live math.

Thank you.