Revealing the beauty of numbers

Posted: March 20, 2024

Maths, it’s fair to say, has an image problem and is still viewed by many as ‘too difficult’ and ‘too male’.

Teacher Fariba Sharifzadeh is on a mission to change that – both through her own example and by demonstrating to students, whatever their gender, how really useful the subject is in so many areas of life.

First, though, she often has to undo some of the negative perceptions that learners have picked up about numeracy at school.

Finding new ways to motivate

Fariba, who teaches at Printworks Campus, said: “I mainly work with students aged 16 to 18 who are just finishing school, and who need to retake their maths to be able to find employment and progress to the next level, as well as find apprenticeships.

“Working with learners at these levels, there is a lot of negativity continuing on from their past experiences in education. Nevertheless, giving them motivation and incentives to learn helps them regain their purpose and find the beauty in maths during their everyday lives.”

Gender imbalance in the subject, particularly at advanced levels, is also a major problem. Fewer girls pursue higher level maths courses and careers than boys – even though they tend to outscore or match their male counterparts during primary school.

Overcoming gender stereotypes

Fariba sees evidence of that in the Digital and IT department where she works. “Although maths is highly beneficial for those who study it, not many perceive it in a positive light. In general, it is deemed a ‘masculine’ subject so, overall, there is a lower percentage of females studying it.

“In our department, for example, the students are predominantly male and there is less involvement of females in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) generally too.

“However, at Printworks we are aiming to change this perception by applying maths to just about every situation possible, to demonstrate its relevance in all areas of life and its value to everyone regardless of gender.”

Making a difference – and opening up opportunities

Numeracy is a key life skill that more than half of the country’s working-age population are currently struggling with. That’s causing real harm, damaging everything from the ability to manage personal finances to career options.

Fariba is convinced, however, that with creativity and support the challenge can be overcome. She said: “In my classroom the secret to success is being compassionate about maths. Teaching it with passion, giving students the full right to have their say and participate fully in an environment they enjoy and where they are not afraid of being judged.

“Additionally, we explore maths rather than explain it – we look at the pattern and make connections.”

The joy of unlocking potential

Reflecting on her own career, she added: “Maths is an intricate and intriguing subject that is both challenging and rewarding and, for me, teaching is a joy.

“It is also a profession that offers continuous opportunities for personal and professional growth and gives such a sense of fulfilment to see students succeed and develop their potential to the fullest.

“I see adults coming into college with little or no experience and knowledge, along with a largely negative image of maths. Yet after a year I see those same students taking full responsibility, becoming the strongest in this subject and leaving college with the intention of studying maths even further.

“That brings me great satisfaction and pride.”

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