Word problems in primary school mathematics

Published Date: 06 October 2020 09:00 PM

News Parliamentary Replies

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Dr Tan Wu Meng, Jurong GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) what is the current pedagogical role of word problems in primary school mathematics; (b) whether the linguistic complexity and reading ease of such word problems in examinations is monitored and, if so, by what metrics; and (c) whether the Ministry has studied the impact of English language fluency on students' mathematics results in primary school and the PSLE and, if so, what are the findings.

Response

1. The relationship between English Language and mathematics competency is well established in research studies. Learning mathematics requires students to understand both the mathematical concepts and the language to express those concepts. Word problems can allow learning of mathematics to be meaningful by using real world context to help students see the relevance of mathematics. That is why word problems are widely used in mathematics education globally.

2. Nevertheless, we recognise that overly complex word problems can cause confusion among young learners, and be a barrier to learning mathematics. Hence MOE makes a conscious effort to ensure that the language used in the national and school-based mathematics examinations is appropriate and clear. MOE also provides guidelines and conduct workshops to help schools pitch their school-based examinations appropriately. This includes managing the difficulty level and using language and context at age-appropriate levels. Managing reading load, language demand and word counts are carefully observed as part of test and examination construction.

3. MOE will continue to guide schools in teaching and learning and ensure that mathematics word problems are appropriately pitched.

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