The Sunday Mail
MANY school leavers and university graduates, not only in Zimbabwe, are finding it hard and difficult to breakthrough in their careers, because of pre-requisites needed by most companies and business corporates when employing them. Whilst many remarkably excel in the faculties of history, literature, linguistics and other disciplines, to their surprise, they are caught off when they hear of mathematics as a pre-requisite to measure their intelligence quotient (IQ).
But when people do not have mathematics, does it mean they are not intelligent enough to secure a successful career and have better lives? Does it always follow that those who have mathematics will always be successful than those who do not have? Or those companies are now positively discriminating against those who do not have math? Are people who are excellent at math generally capable in many other areas and have more of an ability to look at problems in a logical, fast way? Is there any scientific basis for defining intelligence one’s ability in one subject area?
According to academics, the questions above have been at the center of a century’s debate which has left pro-math academics running parallel with their anti-math counterparts. Many psychology scholars have managed to define intelligence first and foremost as a “judgment” and adding that “it is an estimate of the quality that we attribute to the decision making and abstract thinking of people around us.”
In science, the term intelligence typically refers to what we could call academic or cognitive intelligence. In his book on intelligence, professor Resing Drenth answered the question “What is intelligence?” using the following definition: “The whole of cognitive or intellectual abilities required to obtain knowledge, and to use that knowledge in a good way to solve problems that have a well described goal and structure.”
Studies have shown that learning math helps stimulate the brain to think better and faster when facing problems.
But according to British philosopher and mathematician, Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), “mathematics is the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, or whether what we are saying is true.” Mathematics is also the science of numbers and their operations, interrelations, combinations, generalizations, and abstractions and of space configurations and their structure, measurement, transformations, and generalizations.
While the knowledge of mathematical things is almost innate in us, some have said this is the easiest of sciences, a fact which is obvious in that no one’s brain rejects it since laymen and people who are utterly illiterate know how to count.
People who are good at mathematics are usually intelligent when it comes to the logical intelligence sphere hence some assume that there is a correlation between a math grade and a person’s IQ.
On the other hand there are some people who are extraordinarily good at math, music, but are incapable of everyday activities, like putting a shirt on or buying groceries. But in general, logic and math go hand in hand.
Why then do countries, mostly African, which inherited a colonial education system, continue foisting math on their students? Why not make students specialize? For example, if one is best in garment making, then train them in that field specifically without putting mathematics as a pre-requisite because not all people have interest in math, and not every student best in math will excel in life?
People with flying grades in math do well in many subjects probably because they have no difficulties understanding the concepts, but might however have some difficulty in studying other areas which might result in bad grades. Some might understand what happened in the two world wars and why, but fail to remember the names and terms that are used in the study of the subject.
Mathematical people tend to be good at physics, chemistry, and other sciences because they are logical and often math based.
They tend not to be so good at languages and history, because those are less logical, and more random. Math ability does not help with problems like “should the government give $2 billion to mining companies to allow them to revitalise the mining sector?”
Intelligence however has many aspects. Intelligence may also refer to a lot of aspects, physical capabilities, artistic intelligence, and musical intelligence and so on. It is not really factual that people who are good in math are generally capable in many areas. Many people are not good in math but are capable in other areas.
So the question remains unanswered: “Why is math given priority when someone studied African languages at university?”
Yes, to some extent, math ability can determine intelligence because in math, you can measure your analysing skills and analytical thinking, but not all the cases need analysis, some need application, hence wisdom is also another element that makes art students get a high edge on math students.
It is imperative for African governments to prioritise areas which students are good at and mentor them along those lines so they become experts. While mathematical skills are important to overall intelligence, it is not the sole factor in making one successful.
For example, it defies logic for one who wants to study Theology at university to be required to have mathematics which they were not good at as they were strong in interpreting scriptures.
Not all people have the same intelligence measure, and prioritising mathematics seem to undermine the potential that other people do have in other fields. British philosopher Russell, to some extent dismissed the existence of mathematics arguing that people will be working on what they do not know, or even believe in to some extent. It seems whenever governments go down in prioritizing math as the only important subject, the morale of students starts flagging, and feeling like the world is against them, making the path to success infested with insurmountable obstacles.
People should take a moment to reflect on those who have succeeded in life without math as they overcame extraordinary adversity of all kinds — and emerged with remarkable stories of courage, strength, and determination.
Most world leaders do not owe their success to their abilities in math but it is their oratory prowess, derived mostly from art subjects like English Literature and History, that won them the love of their followers.