They can't do maths because they are :
(i) not trained properly in number structures and patterns. so may be we can blame the parents and their former teachers
(ii) not exposed to standard but accepted method of algebra learning. if algebra is taught similar to number structure / number patterns then ..that was where many young brains (students) were killed
(iii) given not so well trained maths teachers in their primary/ secondary schools. many years ago, i taught the same class of 35 students with 4 subjects. i taught maths, english, economics and also moral. even though i was trained in maths , i was not properly coached to take economics and moral. see what i mean? That school has many lady teachers but majority of them are history and geography trained. As such, there were few teachers who can teach maths, english, economics and moral on the same day. More over, those lady teachers were married to big officers in the main town examples chief inspector, doctor, district officer and also PPD. No body wanted to argue with the woman of the chief inspector unless he wanted to be shot , dead and dry. There was a time I was asked to draw netball lines on the school field because the school had identified that i was 'well trained' in trigonometry / geometry/ and calculus & of course, knowing something and putting that on the grass is all different ball together. in short, i made a mess with the netball lines and the black paints. (laugh)
(iv) given so much drill and practice but .. many teachers did not explain many things as clearly as possible. Everything, they put under the carpet. Only the smart chinese students survived.
(v) they were not given lots and lots of word problems at all. what they got from their teachers were mainly dry facts, dry questions and of course dry solutions. they did not try so deep in thinking to structure few variables here and there, model things up and solve it once and for all.
Due to these , when they come to the universities , they were very shocked to meet many jargons as commonly used in UK and USA. As lecturers, we can not help it because we were forced to teach in english. if i used malay, sometimes , the terminologies are considered a bit confusing.
Example. tambah is add. but many kelantanese boys used the jargon 'campur'. When I use the word 'kurang' for subtracting 2 things , the kelantanese version would be ' tolak' while Kuala Lumpur boys say it as 'kurangkan sesuatu bahan dari sesuatu bahan yg lain'. Translated : reduced X from Y. surprisingly , many of my students have not heard the word 'reduce'.
to employ indonesian lecturers was a good move by MOE in the 1970's but CDC / pusat perkembangan kurikulum kuala lumpur solved that handsomely before 1990s.
So in sum, my students came to the university with the perception that their maths will improve once and for all. Never have they thought , they got worse and worse because in the universities we wanted them to apply their past knowledge ( PMR, SPM, MATRIKS, STPM) with the new syllabus called discrete maths, fluid mechanics and numerical analysis at the degree level. as lecturers , our exam paper will be posted in the web and what a shame ..to the organization if our questions could not match question after question with final exam papers from Hong Kong City Polytechnic, Nanyang University or Leeds University. see what i mean? education has gone global , boys!
Wallah hu aklam. my hands and your lecturers' hands are all tight up, u know?