The word mathematics comes from the Greek “máthēma,” which means knowledge. Greek mathematicians were the first to share their mathematical system with the rest of the world. However, the four mathematical operations—addition, subtraction, multiplication and division—have been used by ancient civilizations more than 4,000 years ago. The Sumerians were one of the first civilizations to create a complex system of measurements. From 2600 BC onwards, they wrote multiplication tables on clay tablets and dealt with division problems.
Most people may not know it, but mathematics underpins everything in our modern world. It is the backbone of technological advancements. For example, artificial intelligence and data analysis heavily rely on mathematical models and statistics.
The Program for International Student Assessment or PISA is a worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that measures the scholastic performance in reading, mathematics, and science literacy of 15-year-olds.
When PISA was launched in 2000, only 32 countries participated. Now PISA involves more than 90 countries and 3,000,000 students from across the globe. With the aim of measuring the yield of different education systems and help education reform, PISA provides the most extensive international assessment of student learning outcomes. The most recent international assessment administered was PISA 2018 with 79 countries involved and over 600,000 participants. China’s economic area of Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang emerged as the top performer in all categories.
The Philippines participated in PISA for the first time in 2018, and came in last place among 79 participating countries in reading, and second to last place in science and mathematics. Former Education Secretary Leonor Briones said she initiated the country’s participation in PISA “to be able to establish our baseline in relation to global standards and benchmark the effectiveness of our reforms moving forward. The PISA results, along with our own assessments and studies, will aid in policy formulation, planning, and programming.”
Under Vice President and concurrent Education Secretary Sara Duterte, the DepEd announced on March 11, 2022 the Philippines’ participation in the PISA 2022. With over 85 countries participating, PISA 2022 focused on mathematics and its results will be released in December 2023.
Whatever the outcome of the country’s participation in PISA 2022, it would do well for the Marcos administration to get more students into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This is extremely important for the future prosperity of the Philippines in general, and our people in particular.
We need a national initiative that tries to help schools improve student learning in STEM. If we start them early enough, we can help guide our learners on career paths in math-related fields where we need to stay competitive. This is a great way to strengthen our science, technology and engineering programs.
Above all, we need teachers that can make math fun for learners. For our national leaders, it’s important to make sure that our teachers have the resources to do the job well.
Shakuntala Devi, an Indian writer who was best known as “the human computer” for her ability to swiftly perform lengthy calculations in her head, has an important message for us: “Without mathematics, there’s nothing you can do. Everything around you is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers.”
How do we get learners excited about this dreaded subject? The challenge is to find an effective approach, the sooner the better. And of course it goes without saying that in our technology-driven world, we can only improve our global economic competitiveness by raising our mathematical skills. That’s because mathematics is the cornerstone of scientific and technological advancements.