On Friday 27 September on Al Jazeera’s talk show South2North, Redi Tlhabi looks at the impact that mathematics has on education.

“If mathematics is a word that fills you with fear, you’re not alone,” says Tlhabi at the start of the show, which is broadcast from Johannesburg, South Africa.

“According to a pair of researchers in Chicago, a fear of maths can activate regions of the brain that are linked to physical pain. So why are we girls in particular so scared of sums and what impact is this having on education?”

Tlhabi is joined by Grand Master and former world chess champion Gary Kasparov; Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, vice principal of research and innovation at The University of South Africa (UNISA); and Tshepang Tlale, South Africa’s 16-year-old junior chess champion.

Kasparov believes chess can help prepare children for the challenge of mathematics by teaching them about logic, concentration, and spatial concepts.

“The best age to introduce chess is grades 1 to 3,” he says. “It’s like opening gates for education for kids. It sharpens their minds. All the tests show the dramatic increase both in maths and language. For me, chess is a tool; it’s like pre- education.”

Phakeng agrees. “Chess actually gave me that mental capacity to be able to concentrate more, to be able to take on lots of work and know how to handle it.

“Apart from all the school stuff, it also teaches you discipline. It’s always one move at a time and you have to wait for your opponent to move back.”

However, while Phakeng believes introducing chess to schools could help, she says it’s “not going to solve our problems.” She highlights the importance of children learning maths in their first language, as well as the key role teachers’ play.
She says the perception that mathematics is difficult is largely because the subject is very connected and hierarchical. “Let’s just say you miss the understanding of fractions, then algebra becomes difficult. Because it’s linked, it requires you to understand every step of the way.”

Kasparov believes chess is just one way to gamify education. “We need to introduce more gaming elements,” he says. “Education looks difficult and boring, so we have to create a different image for that.”

This week’s episode of South2North premières at 19h30 GMT on Friday 27 September 2013 and also screens on Saturday at 14h30, Sunday at 04h30 and Monday at 08h30.

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