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Math Help from Young Jamaicans

As we all know, math is one of the most intimidating subject for most high school students in Jamaica. This is by no means unique to Jamaica, with many countries struggling to find ways to encourage improved performance from its students in this important subject. It was therefore pleasing for those of us at the IFOJ to see the following article on the Jamaica Observer website. The article speaks to the work being done by young Jamaicans, in helping other young Jamaicans to learn and appreciate mathematics. Good job, and good luck to them. See article below, or visit the Jamaica Observer website: (

Calabar quartet taking maths to over 100 from six schools


Sunday, November 19, 2017 8 Comments

Volunteer math teachers and Calabar old boys (from left) Kemar Gordon, Christopher Lai, Simon Johnson and Shamoy Wallace pause for a photo op in-between class time. (Photos: Garfield Robinson)

For many young men, Saturday mornings are sacred and reserved for recreational activities. It's the time they use to catch up on video games, play football basketball or unwind from the stresses of the week. But for four young men, old boys of Calabar High School, it's the time they have used, over the past four years, to tutor present students in mathematics and impart words of wisdom.

On a visit to the school by the Jamaica Observer yesterday, close to 100 young males and females sat attentively seeking to understand the concepts, formulas and application of the mathematical problems being taught to them.

Others had to be encouraged to boldly work out the problems and believe that mathematics was not a subject insurmountable.

Shamoy Wallace, 25, executor of the classes, shared that while at The University of the West Indies, Dr Jermaine McCalpin, a lecturer at the institution and Calabar old boy, gave him a call saying that he envisioned the programme and thought he was the ideal person to start it.

“At first I said, 'Me, teach maths?' and I gave it some thought and said it would be good and got some guys from my year, like Kemar Gordon and Simon Johnson, to come on board,” Wallace said.

But for Wallace, who holds a first degree in economics (special), his first class was a test to see his level of commitment, as only three students showed.

He shared that he remained committed after seeing how he he was able to get one of the three boys in the class to break out of his shyness and “up his math game”.

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Today, the class caters to over 100 students from six high schools — Calabar, Jamaica College, Camperdown, Merl Grove, Excelsior, and Jose Marti Technical — and is free of cost.

Students are also fed at the end of classes.

Apart from Wallace, Gordon and Johnson, old boy Christopher Lai also volunteers his Saturdays.

“We give notes, introduce card games, incentives for scoring the highest, and give them reasons to stay motivated and pumped. Placing them on board and motivating them gives more courage too,” Wallace said.

The classes are also about mentorship for those in attendance.

“When a student can open up, and level with you, they feel more comfortable. When you can say; hey I went through this and this is how I solved it; or say to them, 'your problems now aren't any different from ours'. When you can reason and say 'the girls you're thinking about will always be there, but the opportunity for a good education may not and you talk their language it makes a difference for them,” Wallace said.

Johnson, one of the volunteers and old boy who also served as Calabar's head boy in academic year 2010/2011 shared, similar sentiments and stated while there was no shortage for the support of sports, academically work was needed.

“We are 40-odd on CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate) ranking list, and that is nothing to boast about for a traditional high school. The fact is mathematics is problematic, and we realise that if we catch them from they are young they will develop a culture of liking the subject and tackling it head-on. Usually they say don't like it, and that's because they never learnt it properly. So it's catching them from seventh grade and helping them to develop a better understanding of the basics,” he explained.

Further, he said that some of the students actually like maths, but want to do better.

Orlando Broomfield, grade seven student at Calabar expressed that ratio was his greatest challenge, and since being in the classes he has improved. He said at the end of his high school tenure he hopes to achieve 10 grade ones in CSEC.

Jose Marti Technical student Alexsia McFarlane said that since being part of the class for three weeks she has got a wider understanding in maths even though she loves the subject.

“I learned different methods to solving problems as my maths teacher only teaches one way. They teach how we understand, and I hope to move my maths grade from 90 to 100,” she said.

Calabar student Malique Sewell admitted that he is not bad at math, but he had 'issues' with algebra, which was causing him to fail, so he decided to join the class.

“It's important, as it is everything. My grandfather said if you fail maths you fail life, and in third form I failed hard, as I didn't understand. I came to the class, met Simon, and I could relate more. They talk my language and make it look easier, and I am doing better now,” Sewell said.

Davian Gayle, a fourth form student at Calabar, said that since being in the class his maths average has moved from 54 to 87 per cent and each class leads to a better experience.

“It's an easier interaction. The guys are closer to our age and have a better understanding of how we would view life and situations,” he said.

As for Tereek Gayle, another fourth form student, he witnessed a steady decline in his grades last academic year and decided to come to the classes to improve

“Maths is not really a challenge for me but under pressure I lose focus and tend to forget the formula I saw my grades fall to 60, then 50. My next test will be a month from now, and I expect to see high grades and a big improvement,” he said.

Moreover, Wallace said that though the initiative started with Calabar, it's not just for them and hopes the move will start a fire elsewhere.

“I don't want anyone to say 'oh, it's just for Calabar,' because it isn't. Six different high schools come and students from anywhere are welcomed. We are committed to improving our maths grades right across the island,” he said.

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