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The 6 Cs of Math Competency

Glenford Smith
Career Writer

With an average failure rate of over sixty five percent in CXC mathematics over the last three years, it begs the question of what it will take to solve the obvious crisis in secondary math education.

Studies into peak performing students in math and the sciences repeatedly reveal that focusing only on the technical aspects of these subjects is not enough. Even more important are issues relating to motivation, self-esteem, and self-discipline.

Excellent math teachers are not just math whiz themselves, but are able to inspire students to awaken the math whiz within themselves. They stimulate the six core math competences in their students.

Comprehension refers not just to math formulas or problem-solving procedures. Something as basic as understanding words used in Mathematics pose a major problem to many students. For example, ‘root’ refers to trees, but has a totally unique meaning in Math. Although related to the normal usage, these specialised words often confuse students because of their lack of clarity about basic word usage. Encourage students to read. This will build their general comprehension ability as well as their vocabulary.

Don’t take computational skills for granted. What students sometimes understand to be a weakness in ‘math’ is really a weakness in basic arithmetic, as well as other computational principles. By designing interesting computational exercises, students can easily master the intricacies of mathematical computation.

Most students and some teachers are unaware of the importance of consciously developing the powers of imagination. This neglect makes it difficult for students to develop working diagrammatic models of the problems being solved. I always tell students, “If you can draw it accurately; you will understand enough to solve it.”

For many people, even at university, mathematics is just a science of abstraction; it bears no relationship to real life. This is anything but the reality, however. Teachers have to master the skills of relating concepts to everyday situations. Make some physical triangles to demonstrate the trigonometrical ratios rather than deal in abstractions. Take students into the parking lot to demonstrate speed, acceleration, and distance-time relations rather than just talk about it. By seeing how mathematics relates to everyday life, students develop greater interest.

Students who lack the determination to succeed cannot do well at mathematics. Math is largely a matter of trying, failing – and trying until you get it. By encouraging a culture of self-discipline, hard work and perseverance, mathematics teachers help students to develop a powerful edge. Commitment is about attitude; which is even more important than natural aptitude.

Commitment flows from confidence. Students who lack high self-esteem don’t believe in themselves. Self-confidence is the basic requirement for success in life generally. Teachers must learn skills of building high self-esteem students, especially in mathematics. Not only must they be competent math exponents, but great motivators and self-image builders.

By becoming aware of these factors, and consciously incorporating them into their instructional strategy, math teachers can enable more students to awaken the math whiz within.

*Glenford Smith is a Motivational Speaker and Peak Performance Trainer. Email him at

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