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Improving Mathematics Education In South Africa – The Ways And Means

By victor Nyakey - Durban South Africa
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The issue of poor academic performance among primary and high school learners across the Republic of South Africa, as far as mathematics is concerned, is becoming distressing. As such, if nothing is done to bring the situation under control, the hope of producing future mathematicians will be shattered.

It is an incontrovertible fact that, learners in private schools who sit the Independent Education Board (IEB) exams do much better than their counterparts in the public schools. This is backed by the yearly release of matric results.

Now, instead of sitting on the fence and engaging in blame – game or just churning out various reasons that contribute to the abysmal mathematics performance, it is important for all well-meaning people to come out and propose ways and means by which the Ministry of Basic Education and Department of Basic Education can improve the situation.

Before I move on to enumerate, according to my opinion, the pragmatic means by which mathematics results can be improved, may I appeal to all authorities concerned to listen to the voices from afar – civic society organizations, opinion leaders, researchers and quality assurance institutions; these ‘voices’ make sense, though they may not be perfect, but their contributions towards educational management and leadership development in South Africa over the years cannot be underestimated.

I have outlined two approaches namely direct and indirect strategies which need to be followed in order to deal with the high failure rate.

The Ministry of Basic Education and Department of Basic Education must supply satisfactory learning resources such as text books, science laboratory equipment, among others to schools that are in dire need.

They should take immediate steps to recruit sufficient number of qualified mathematics educators to teach in schools that writhe from lack of adequate educators. The two bodies have a duty to equip all newly posted and existing mathematics teaching staff in all public schools with contemporary methodologies, instead of the usual talk shops, as a step in enhancing lesson delivery. Though some mathematics workshops have been held in recent times on intermittent basis, I believe its frequency has to be stepped up at achieve the desired results.

On teacher development, a Senior Education Specialist for mathematics at Further Education and Training (FET) phase under the KwaZulu Natal Department of Education, Mrs. Zanele Mthembu, said, “Learners are lacking basic knowledge which means that specialization in mathematics is very important for teachers in primary schools across the country.” She revealed that since teachers at the primary school level teach more than one subject, not all of them are able to teach mathematics efficiently because some of them unenthusiastically teach mathematics or refuse to teach the subject.

Mrs. Mthembu also advocated for the reintroduction of the Standard and Higher Grade systems, lamenting that learners who find mathematics very challenging easily lose hope in their studies. She also noted that there are high schools that offer only pure mathematics to all learners to the shortcoming of weak learners. Therefore, she recommended that, for underperforming learners to cope with their studies, they should be introduced to the standard grade mathematics curriculum.

According to Mrs. Precious Mkhize, a mathematics lead educator at Rossburgh High School, drill lessons and spontaneous tests should be upheld at the primary school level to enhance memory retention. She also suggested that only 12th grade curriculum should be assessed in matric exam for mathematics inferring that the academic assessment of the learner in mathematics should be formative rather than summative.

The MoBE and DBE ought to intensify their monitoring and evaluation roles nationwide through their provincial and district departments and make sure that public schools duly implement various educational reform policies in accordance with the 1996 South African Schools Acts, bearing in mind the development of mathematics education.

The authorities should do more to motivate educators who teach mathematics in deprived or remote communities across South Africa, where there is erratic or no electricity and water supply. Teaching in such communities goes with numerous challenges; many who apply to teach mathematics refuse to be posted there. As a result, learners study without having any physical encounter with a mathematics teacher, hence, the poor performance. But it all lies in the discretion of the Ministry and Department of Basic Education to determine the form of incentive package that rural school mathematics educators should receive.

Parental involvement in the development of basic education is paramount. The initial stage of learning is the home. Children see their parents and immediate family members as role models and look up to them to the extent of imitating their lifestyle.

If parents educate their school going wards about the importance of studying mathematics related subjects, encourage them to do their school work in time and ensure that the kids attend all mathematics classes on regular basis, by contacting respective schools for updates on the child’s performance, this will contribute greatly to government’s effort to reduce the high failure and truancy rate.

Where necessary, parents should allow their children to substitute mathematics for mathematical literacy, in the event that they have been failing in all classroom tasks and are giving up hope. What I am trying to imply is that, parents should not force their children to study pure mathematics while the kids themselves prefer mathematical literacy. As the old adage goes charity begins at home.

Learners, on the other hand, have a role to play; they must point out the challenges they face in studying mathematics and inform their educators and parents as soon as possible. This will afford both teachers and parents to determine the kind of remedial tuition or support that would be suitable to deal with the learners’ weaknesses.

The desire to improve the academic performance of learners cannot be achieved without involving the school as a juristic person. A congenial learning environment should be created to afford learners the opportunity to study mathematics as a subject but not a burden.

An acting Deputy Chief Education Specialist, Mr. Daniel Krupanandan, who works with the KwaZulu Natal Department of Education has stressed that, the use of calculator at primary school level, as suggested by other people, should be discouraged adding that educators must adopt various practical ways of teaching mathematics and exhibit the ability to understand and share the feelings of learners about the subject. He stated that the fate of the learner lies in the ability of teachers to share ideas about how to improve lesson delivery. On educator motivation, Mr. Krupanandan said hard working mathematics educators should be highly celebrated to keep up establishment. He encouraged learners to attempt as many practice examples including past year exam papers on their own rather than wait for the teacher to give answers.

Other stakeholders such as Corporate and Non-Governmental Organizations should be supported and encouraged to sponsor public schools; they should renovate and construct school infrastructure, supply classroom furniture, learning

materials, sports and recreational facilities, potable water and electricity to communities where government is unable to deliver services effectively.

Such organizations should also recruit and place volunteer educators and pay them so that they can teach in underprivileged schools. They should engage school communities in various educational programmes in order to create awareness about various career options that are associated with mathematics, where a good number of successful personalities from all walks of life take turns to give motivational talks about the importance of studying mathematics at school. This will stimulate learners’ interest to love mathematics as a subject.

The author of this article, Victor Nyakey, is a lead educator for mathematics with the KZN Department of Education. He is also the Head of Mathematics Department at Futura High School in Durban South Africa. Readers can contact me via email [email protected]

NB: Attention Editor! Kindly find attached photograph of the author, Victor Nyakey.

Category: Opinion/Article/Education