News / Africa

Math Program Adds Up for Kids

Child in Zomba, Malawi is enrolled in Numeracy Boost program.Child in Zomba, Malawi is enrolled in Numeracy Boost program.
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Child in Zomba, Malawi is enrolled in Numeracy Boost program.
Child in Zomba, Malawi is enrolled in Numeracy Boost program.
Joe DeCapua
A pilot project is being launched in Malawi and Bangladesh to teach kids that math is fun and that it matters. Save the Children calls it the Numeracy Boost program.

Former U.S. public school teacher Shirin Lutfeali helped plan Numeracy Boost, which she said is aimed at young children having difficulty even with simple math, like those in Malawi.

“We found that the basic math skills were just not where we thought they would be. It really surprised us that in the 4th grade group that we were working with in Malawi only 10 percent of these 4th graders could solve a really simple, basic subtraction problem – 18 take away 7 is what the problem was. And it was very shocking for us to see that,” she said.

There’s no single reason why the kids' math skills are not adding up.

De Capua report on Numeracy Boost
De Capua report on Numeracy Boosti
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“I think there are a lot of issues. Many of them are related to class size. Some of them are related to teacher training opportunities for learning about various methods of good practice in the classroom. So, there’s a variety of reasons. I don’t think there’s one specific reason out there,” she said.

Numeracy Boost involves students, teachers and the local community.

“At the student level, we start off by measuring what the kids already know, so that we can help them reach the math goals that they need to reach. With the teachers, we train them and give them support and resources so that they can excel in the classroom as teachers. We know that math isn’t just a subject that kids learn about in school; it’s all around them and it is part of their daily lives. We involve the entire community in exploring how math is part of their daily lives,” Lutfeali said.

For example, the project includes community math days, where math is used in cooking or going to the market. Math camps are also held where the kids take part in fun activities.

Lutfeali gave an example of an innovative way a Bangladeshi teacher taught his students.

“The teacher was teaching second grade division, and he brought in some leaves from a mango tree that was just outside of the classroom, and then he distributed the leaves amongst the children to teach them the concept of division. And there was a huge flurry of excitement in the classroom. Kids were talking to each other, working together in groups. And these are the kind of things we’re trying to promote with our numeracy work,” she said.

The Save the Children program has the support of parents.

She said, “Parents, especially in the community, all talk about how they want their children to be mathematicians, scientists. And they all talk about how important it is for kids to have these strong math skills. In one of the classrooms I was in, a small girl—a third grader—said she wanted to be a doctor. And so I think all of these children are very eager to learn, to improve themselves. So I feel like it’s going to be an exciting project for them to get involved with.”

The eventual goal is to have the ministries of education take over the programs.

Save the Children has also launched a campaign called A World with No Math. It enlisted the aid various comedians to give examples of what life would be like without math. It hopes to get people taking about math and laughing about it, too.

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