Primary school teachers often complain that children who can do quite difficult operations in arithmetic are unable to solve the simplest problem if it is given in words, as a ‘story problem’. In our school, at first we attributed this difficulty to lack of basic word recognition. Mallam (1986) points out that part of the causes of students’ failure in word problems in the past has been reading failure. Mallam (1987241) quotes Kalejaiye (1980) to the effect that a minimum level of comprehension of the English language is needed in order to understand word problems in mathematics. In 1982/3 our school introduced a systematic programme of basic reading instruction to give every child word recognition skills. We assumed that by the time the
children who were then in primary one reached the top of the school all children would be such good readers that the difficulty would disappear. Over six years have passed and those children are now in JSS one. They are good readers but the difficulty has not, in fact, disappeared. Very often even children who are good at both reading and mathematics cannot do word problems. We find that there is a need for some explicit teaching in the area of reading in mathematics.