Mathematics Myth:
Turning the Tables on Perceived Difficulty


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Many learners have a negative attitude towards Mathematics from the start, believing that it is very difficult, that they are not smart enough and that they cannot do it at all. Let's look at the origin of this myth which can stem from various factors, both psychological and environmental.

  • Parental, Teachers and Peer Influences: Thoughtless comments by parents that they couldn't do Mathematics create a "logical" perception in their children that they can't do Mathematics either. Of course, that's not the case at all. Even teachers who believe that Mathematics is only for the smartest do a great injustice to children who, through hard work and additional help, may be able to master Mathematics. Peers can also plant the seed of doubt in learners that they are not good enough to pass Mathematics.

  • Anxiety and Fear of Failure: The fear of making mistakes and the associated consequences can create anxiety. Mathematics is often seen as a subject where errors are less forgiving, leading to a heightened fear of failure.

  • Lack of Confidence: Learners may lack confidence in their mathematical abilities, possibly due to past experiences of struggling with the subject. This lack of confidence can create a negative feedback loop, further reinforcing the perception of difficulty.

  • Abstract Nature of Mathematics: Mathematics often deals with abstract concepts that may be challenging to visualize. Learners may struggle to connect theoretical concepts with real-world applications, leading to a perception of Mathematics as detached from everyday life.

  • Teaching Methods: Ineffective or uninspiring teaching methods can contribute to negative attitudes. If learners are not engaged or if the teaching approach does not cater to diverse learning styles, it can foster disinterest and a sense of difficulty.

  • Cumulative Nature of Learning: Mathematics is a subject where knowledge builds upon previous concepts. If learners struggle with foundational concepts, it can create a cascade effect, making subsequent topics seem even more challenging.

  • Lack of Positive Experiences: A history of negative experiences with Mathematics, such as receiving poor marks or struggling to understand concepts, can shape a learner's perception of the subject.

  • Inadequate Support Systems: Insufficient support, both at home and in the classroom, can contribute to negative attitudes. If learners don't receive the encouragement and assistance they need, frustration can set in.


Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach, involving supportive teaching methods, engaging curriculum design, fostering a growth mindset, and creating an environment that encourages learners to view mistakes as opportunities for learning. Overcoming a fear of Mathematics requires a patient and supportive approach. Here are strategies teachers can use to help learners build confidence and resilience in Mathematics:

  • Positive Attitude: Foster a positive attitude towards Mathematics. Celebrate small successes and avoid expressing negative sentiments about the subject.

  • Real-World Applications: Show the practical applications of Mathematics in everyday life. This can make the subject more relatable and less abstract.

  • Hands-on Learning: Use things learners can touch and see, like toys or pictures, to make tricky mathematical ideas easier. Physical objects help make Mathematics easier to understand.

  • Interactive Learning: Incorporate games and interactive activities to make learning enjoyable. This can reduce anxiety and make Mathematics a fun experience.

  • Small Steps: Break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable steps. This helps learners see that they can tackle challenges one step at a time.

  • Personalised Learning: Tailor your teaching approach to individual learning styles. Some learners may grasp concepts better through visual aids, while others may prefer verbal explanations.

  • Realistic Goal Setting: Set achievable goals for each lesson. Little by little, as you make progress, you'll feel more confident and see that challenges can be overcome.

  • Encourage Questions: Create an environment where learners feel comfortable asking questions. This helps address misunderstandings early on.

  • Positive Reinforcement: Offer praise and positive reinforcement when a learner makes an effort or solves a problem. Encouragement builds confidence.

  • Mathematical Games: Teachers can maybe give learners a Brain teaser once a week. It's a good way to spark learners' interest and get them involved in a fun way. Parents can also use educational toys and Apps at home to help learners develop mathematical concepts in an informal way.

  • Relate Mathematics to Interests: Connect Mathematics concepts to a learner's interests. If they enjoy art, show how geometry is used in creating shapes and patterns.

  • Peer Support: Encourage collaborative learning. Working with peers can alleviate anxiety, as children can support and learn from each other.

  • Real-Life Examples: Share stories of successful individuals who initially struggled with Mathematics but overcame challenges, e.g. Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison. This shows that everyone can improve with effort.

  • Patience and Understanding: Be patient and understanding. Recognise that fear of Mathematics is a common challenge, and your support can make a significant difference.

  • Open Communication: Keep communication channels open with parents. Discuss strategies that can be implemented at home to support the child's learning.

  • Professional Help if Needed: If Maths anxiety persists, consider involving a Mathematics tutor or seeking additional support from the school.

By combining these strategies, you can create a positive and supportive learning environment, helping children overcome their fear of Mathematics and fostering a lifelong appreciation for the subject.