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You don’t need to pass math to be a good artist

By Robert Wesonga | December 14th 2018

I have never had any problem with mathematics, but the subject has had plenty of problems with me.

For this, I have always refrained from blaming my teachers or the heat that often characterised some of the afternoons when the subject was taught.

I do not even blame the ventilation of the classrooms or the noise from the road nearby.

For a student who was above average all his academic life, the wrath vented on me by this subject is a mystery that has beaten all my mental calculations.

Rub off Math-phobia

Just before you accuse me of wanting to rub off my Math-phobia on others, my story is not unique.

On the contrary, mathematics still is the worst nightmare for many students.

This is about to be confirmed when this year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) are announced.

Several years ago, in a general banter with friends, one of us shared his experience with Mathematics during his days in school.

He said that during the initial lessons of a new topic, he would always be top of his class.

This was because these first lessons required him to recall, define, state, explain and attempt calculations of very basic nature.

But his performance in the subject would make a turn for the worse as the content grew in complication.

Normal performance

Then he would slide down the slope to his normal performance, which both his teacher and classmates were familiar with.

In this banter, we agreed, that while I have a brain that is inclined towards words, Mathematics has a logic which requires that explanations be delivered in letters, symbols and formulae.

It is interesting to note that for the longest time our system has insisted that everyone has a head for mathematics.

This, when common knowledge suggests that human beings are created with different aptitudes.

But the system is not all to blame, for where it has tried to address this reality, the society has remained stubborn.

We are all aware that there was a review of the teaching and learning of mathematics with the introduction of options A and B.

The latter was supposed to be taught to students who were sure that they were not going to pursue Mathematics-related courses in colleges and universities.

Still, some schools, teachers and parents have felt that it is prestigious for their children to take option A.

In any case, who wants their child to be associated with intellectual humility when they send them out to go and compete and defeat others?

I have used the term “intellectual humility” to avoid using the other option- “stupidity.” We are all born with certain innate talents, which, once nurtured to desirable levels, produce excellence in human endeavors.

This is why we will often marvel at sublime football moves, or powerful runs on the track, and describe them as brilliant even when they are executed by those who did not do too well in academia.

Lay blame

We have gone on to lay blame on many things, ranging from unfavourable weather to bad teachers when the truth lies elsewhere.

The ability to handle various learning experiences is determined by the sum of factors in nature and nurture.

Simply stated, the way human beings are naturally wired and their early socialisation, to a very large extent, determines the amount and kind of knowledge that they are able to process, retain and put into practical application. 

It is a good thing, therefore, the way in which proposed curriculum sets out to establish the various competencies in pupils to cultivate only what the mind of the child is inclined to do.

For just as the Eskimos have no use for refrigerators, so have runners no need of advanced knowledge in calculus to be able to run their course of the track.

Waste of funds

Similarly, it is a waste of public funds, and an inconvenience to the minds of learners to burden those who are inclined towards performing arts with tortuous and endless search for the value of “x”.

They do not need to discover the whereabouts of “x” to compose good music that will entertain the mathematicians and scientists as they ponder on inventions for the good of humanity.

So when KCSE results are finally released and the performance of your child in Mathematics turns out to be unimpressive, do not try to find out why.

You will be engaged in worthless mental calculations if you waste time questioning whether the teacher was well trained or hasten to blame the position of the subject on the timetable or the afternoon heat.

Some abilities are determined by nature, and not nurture.


Dr Wesonga is a lecturer at the University of Kabianga – Kericho [email protected]

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