Exploring problems faced by ZJC learners in solving word problems in mathematics: a case study of learners at a school in Zimbabwe
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The main problem investigated in this study related to the poor performance of Z.J.C students when solving mathematical word problems. Using a qualitative approach, this study explored the challenges faced by Z.J.C students in solving mathematical word problems. Using a convenience sampling technique to select a school and class from which to collect data, the study collected data from fifteen Z.J.C students at a school in Mashonaland East. The analysis of solutions presented by students in a test of mathematical word problems and interviews that were conducted to triangulate the study provided evidence that the central challenge faced relates to language. There was evidence that due to language issues, other computational challenges emerged among students; these challenges included omission of essential working, wrong algebraic expressions and poor presentation of work. It was found that mathematical language, when used in word problems, is cognitively demanding and stressing. This result in confusion, computational errors, mental fatigue and dampens creativity in finding expected solutions. There was also evidence that social elements such as peer interaction and help from senior students play a role in influencing the perceptions, attitudes and performance of students. Based on the findings of the study, the research recommends pedagogical strategies that simplify the technicalities of mathematical language. These include fusing vernacular languages during instruction, promotion of inter-subjects integration, and use of guided problem solving strategies in teaching, peer teaching and coaching by senior students.