Teaching and using mathematics to understand our world can help make numbers more meaningful and relevant in uncertain times like the COVID-19 pandemic, said speakers at a virtual International Mathematics Symposium hosted by the Aga Khan University's Institute for Educational Development.
During the event, Professor Emeritus Anne Watson, University of Oxford, UK and Professor Nasir Mahmood from Allama Iqbal Open University, Pakistan deliberated on how good mathematics teaching and learning materials could be geared towards helping students develop a deep understanding of mathematical concepts, shifting learners from thinking only about methods to understanding concepts. It was pointed out that mathematical reasoning and problem solving are closely linked to language and context, and many learners of English as second language suffer as a consequence.
Speakers noted that technology is a powerful tool and Dr Arindam Bose, Centre for Education Innovation and Action Research, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India, led a workshop on taking full advantage of contemporary technology and online resources to foster interactive and collaborative classroom practice. The workshop's stress was on activities around the analysis of geometric shapes drawing on a large scale, sustainable model of open education, the Connected Learning Initiative, at the Tata Institute.
How can one test if learning has been internalised by students? Professor Jenni Ingram from University of Oxford talked about how large-scale assessments in mathematics inform policy and practices of mathematics instruction. Professor Anjum Halai from Aga Khan University referred to Pakistan's performance in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2019, an international assessment system that measures student performance in mathematics and science and provides a robust, global comparison of student performance at grades four and eight. The performance of Pakistan's fourth graders in mathematics was dismal: the country was second from the bottom. A majority of the students were only able to cope with very simple mathematical concepts and computations related to number operations, could solve only simple word problems and had only some knowledge of simple fractions and common geometric shapes. She suggested that the TIMSS data be investigated further to explore factors affecting students' learning with a view to addressing the challenges.
Globally as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, are critical to human development, Professor Munirah Ghazali, from University of Sains, Malaysia presented strategies to integrate SDGs in teacher education courses for the holistic development of teachers and, consequently, of learners.
A panel discussion was held on new initiatives taken for effective teaching and learning of mathematics in these uncertain times, what challenges have been faced to provide meaningful mathematics learning experiences to students and how they have been addressed. The panellists were from the Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan; Al Murtaza School, Pakistan; Aga Khan University Examination Board, Pakistan; Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa and Aga Khan University, Professional Development Centre in Chitral, Pakistan.
In a novel breakout session, Yousuf Kerai from Habib University, Pakistan, made connections between tabla music and modular arithmetic, and entertained the audience with a tabla performance.
The symposium was well received with nearly 400 attendees: mathematics teachers, teacher educators and researchers from Pakistan and across the globe. Inspired by the symposium discussions, participants made a commitment to take initiatives to improve the classroom practice of mathematics in their institutions.