School Initiatives: Overview

This is an exciting time for secondary school mathematics education in Kenya. There is the new opportunity for teachers and students to teach and learn mathematics through the use of computers. There is the potential for the subject to change as a result of this new access and for Kenya to lead the way in a new computer based mathematics curriculum. A number of initiatives are underway to aid this progression.

Schools in Kenya are increasingly being equipped with projectors and computer labs which offer fantastic opportunities for teachers to demonstrate concepts in clear visual ways, and have students learn to interact with mathematics by teaching them how to use software packages. The adaption to the Kenyan curriculum of good quality, free resources which are already available online, will give teachers the skills and opportunities to move away from rote learning and calculation based classes. It is essential that these resources are free and that teachers are supported in their use. Mathematical and statistical software packages such as CAST, Geogebra, Mathematica and Genstat are currently being adapted and distributed in schools around Western Kenya. One method by which this is being achieved is through the nation-wide SMASSE program which provides training and follow up visits to enthusiastic teachers, aiding integration of computer and communication technologies into schools. This is convincing teachers and administrators that computers are not just useful for computer studies lessons and administration tasks, but can be used to interact with mathematics and supplement the existing out-dated textbook.

It is beneficial for students to be exposed to computers during lessons but allowing students access to computers in their free time would increase their learning curve dramatically. One way of ensuring student access is via personal laptops, an idea currently being explored. It would give students free access to resources such as video lectures from the Khan Academy and give the time needed to experiment with mathematical software to learn for themselves. Sugata Mitra has collected good evidence that it is possible for students to learn for themselves without a teacher but with the aid of a computer.

As computer use is ubiquitous in Kenyan schools, then a change to a computer-based curriculum that addresses real world use of mathematics, as advocated by Conrad Wolfram, becomes possible. Students at the 1st Maseno Maths Camp had a taste of how this might work in practice. They were taught new ideas such as modelling and game theory using computers and were given time to explore these ideas on computers in groups. Alongside computer activities were games and puzzle sessions that increased enjoyment of learning mathematics and related the understanding of following rules to being able to work within set structures in mathematics. Two DVDs of resources were given out at the end of the week, and it is hoped that the students who attended from fifteen different schools will take back what they have learned and act as a catalyst when they return back to school.

Behind all these ideas and initiatives is the hope that by exposing students to the joy of mathematics, with a strong emphasis on relevant mathematics using computers, it will ensure that the best students stay in mathematics and in mathematics education.