Mathematics – is it really difficult?

Mathematics is absolutely necessary in everyday life and it is essential in so many other areas of our lives.

Mathematics is usually difficult for many students and in this blog, we would explore some of the possible reasons.

As a teacher for nearly two decades, I have come to realize that many students develop a dislike for Mathematics because of an ingrained perception that the subject area is difficult. This perception may have been passed on indirectly from parent to child. This perceived dislike for the subject, more often than not would have begun by age seven or so for many. Students transition from Second Year, (age 6 or so) to Standard One (age 7) and are required to grasp more difficult concepts. If improperly handled, misconceptions develop and so does the dislike. Parents, because of how they would have been taught, would have also developed a dislike for the subject area. I have heard parents say, “Miss, I never liked Maths in school” or “Miss, I was never good in Mathematics, nah.”

Another reason that many students find the subject area difficult is the teacher’s method, style of teaching and attitude towards Mathematics. Students can easily recognize when a teacher does not particularly like any subject area and that includes Mathematics.

The teacher’s approach to the teaching of Mathematics should include Concrete, Pictorial and Abstract or Symbolic stages. One or two of these aspects are sometimes missing. However, if this approach is used, it almost guarantees a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts and the eventual liking of the Mathematics.

The concrete stage in the teaching of Mathematics requires students ‘to do’, manipulate or count actual objects, for example, bananas. Real life experiences allow students to be part of the problem they are attempting to solve.

As students master the skill at the concrete stage, they move to the pictorial stage. At this stage, students now use pictures of the objects; which represent the actual objects and students should now be able to make mental connections between the pictures and the actual objects that they manipulated. Making these mental connections, help students grasp the concept presented to them.

Finally, students progress to the abstract or symbolic stage where the objects are represented by symbols.

Students may face challenges or difficulties, if they did not grasp fully the concepts during the first two stages: concrete and pictorial. The longer these challenges or difficulties remain unresolved, the child’s dislike for Mathematics would deepen.
Students must also view Mathematics as necessary for living in the real world. Teachers and parents can of course, incorporate Mathematics in as many areas as possible. Mathematical skills are essential in cooking as when measuring ingredients for a favourite recipe; or when using their knowledge of time so as to remove a cake from the oven; a child’s knowledge of perimeter would be useful when determining the material needed for fencing property. An awareness of the practicality of these skills surely can determine a student’s interest in the subject area.

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