Learning mathematics can be challenging for even the best students. And as society becomes ever more technology dependent, math competence is increasingly important.
In developing regions, many teachers don’t have access to up-to-date materials and teaching methods. Weak or nonexistent skills mean that students may not be prepared for the job market, continuing a cycle of poverty.
In 2004, Barrick began working with Peru’s Apoyo Institute. The non-profit Institute’s goal is to improve teaching methods applied to economics, mathematics and business management in the country. Their program, called Mathematics for Everyone (MFE), encourages students to learn math through playful, interactive methods. Since its initial commitment seven years ago, Barrick has become one of the program’s most important sponsors.
The results to date have been gratifying. Barrick and the Institute have taken the program to 251 schools in the provinces of Ancash and La Libertad, where the company’s Pierina and Lagunas Norte mines are based. According to evaluations by Peru’s Ministry of Education, in 2007 and 2009, these two regions saw a progressive increase in the number of students whose performance improved: 18 per cent in Ancash and 50 per cent in La Libertad during the two-year period. They also performed about 10 per cent above the national average on standardized tests.
The impact on teachers has also been significant. To date, approximately 825 teachers use the program.
By the end of this year, Barrick’s sponsorship will benefit about 32,500 students, and more than 900 teachers are expected to have participated in the program.
Aimed at elementary students and dubbed Mimate (a Spanish play on the words “my math”), the MFE program uses specially prepared teaching materials and student books. Teachers are trained and provided with methodological guidelines, learning strategies and videos of master lectures. A website for students, www.20enmate.com, features cartoons of people baking, playing games, and creating paper airplanes (all activities that require mathematical competence). The website, the first of its kind in Peru, complements the textbooks and reinforces classroom learning.
The program also includes workshops allowing teachers to interact and share their experiences.
“Our daily work at the Apoyo Institute is full of anecdotes and little stories: for example, last year 60 per cent of the children in the second-grade classrooms where we have been working counted with their fingers and now only 10 per cent of them do. And the rest? They are doing the math in their heads!” said Cecilia Torres Llosa, MFE’s general coordinator, Apoyo Institute.
Many children now look forward to their math studies. First-grader Lizeth Chávez Figueroa says, “We compete between ourselves and also with students from other schools through the Internet. Now learning is fun.”