In-service Training of Secondary School Maths Teachers


BY PROF WERNER OLIVIER (ACM: Advisory Committee for Mathematics)


The South African Mathematics Foundation has initiated a project to determine the status of formal in-service training programmes for in-service mathematics educators at South African High Schools. This study specifically targeted short courses on offer. Formal programmes, such as the B.Ed. (Hons.), which arguably constitute in-service training when taken on a part-time basis, were not considered.

It is common cause that the state of training of high school Mathematics teachers is generally poor throughout the country. It was therefore deemed necessary to assess what is being done in the way of informal upgrading of teachers, in order to devise strategies to improve the situation. The survey was conducted with limited capacity to do justice to a broad based review of current in-service teacher training activities that could be valuable in the context of the main aim of this report. Thus this study should be viewed as a first step in what could be a lengthy and much more costly process of determining the full extent of in-service professional training opportunities that exist country-wide.


Considering a range of aspects that should ideally be part and parcel of the ongoing professional development of mathematics teachers in the 21st century, a structured survey template was designed to serve as a basis for reflecting and reporting on by current HE institutions or NGO’s that are involved in in-service skills training of mathematics educators . The areas that were included in the survey are reflected as annexures to this report.

Attempts were made to contact Education Faculties at all South African Universities, with a view to identifying the right contact people to assist with the survey. Once this was done, questionnaires were sent to these people in order to capture information concerning the programmes they offered. Responses were not good. Completed questionnaires have been received from just six institutions, namely NMMU, the Universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Witwatersrand, North-West and AIMESEC. In addition, three Universities advised that they do not currently offer programs of this type. These are the University of Kwazulu-Natal, Walter Sisulu University and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. A number of known NGO organizations that traditionally were engaged in the mathematics skills upgrade of teachers were also contacted for information about the programmes that they may be offering.


We give brief summaries of the activities of the six institutions which submitted completed questionnaires.

  3.1 University of Cape Town (Annexures 1-8)

UCT offers an Advanced Certificate in Senior Phase Mathematics Teaching. This programme is taken over two years, and has a weighting of 120 SAQA credits at Level 6. Students are exposed to an extensive range of topics in the Senior Phase curriculum. In addition, there are a number of shorter programmes at the same level, namely:

  • Teaching strategies for numbers, operations, and relationships in senior phase (12 hours, NQF level 6, 2 credits)
  • Assessment principles and strategies for senior phase mathematics and science teachers (12 hours, NQF level 6, 2 credits)
  • Developing the concept of function from patterns for senior phase teachers (6 hours, NQF level 6, 2 credits)
  • Designing geometry classroom activities (6-12 hours, NQF level 6, 1-2 credits)
  • Lines angles and constructions for senior phase (6 hours, NQF level 6, 2 credits)
  • Engaging with number for senior phase teachers (6 hours, NQF level 6, 2 credits)
  • Probability for CAPS content for senior phase (6 hours, NQF level 6, 1-2 credits)

The number of times these programmes have been offered over the past three years ranges between 2 and 5.

  3.2 University of Stellenbosch (Annexures 9-11)

The University of Stellenbosch reported on programmes offered at three different centres in the Western Cape and Northern Cape. All of these run over a six-month period and they appear to be very similar. They cover a wide range of topics contained in the Senior Phase curriculum. None of them appears to have SAQA accreditation at present.

  3.3 University of the Witwatersrand (Annexure 12)

Wits reported on a project entitled “Wits Maths Connect Secondary Project”, which aims to upgrade mathematics teachers generally and in particular to equip them to assist learners to make the transitions from Grade 9 to Grade 10, and from Grade 12 to University. The programme runs over a full year, and participating teachers are required to devote a number of full days to attending classes. The programe consists of two sections, entitled “Transition Maths 1” and “Transition Maths 2”. It is not SAQA accredited at present.

  3.4 AIMSEC (Annexure 13)

AIMSEC reported on a two-year Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE) programme which is currently accredited by the University of Fort Hare. This is a comprehensive programme, with contact sessions and Video conferencing. This will shortly be replaced by the new ACT course, with accreditation being taken over by the University of the Northwest. There is also a mathematics teacher short course that is offered over a three months duration. These target unqualified and under-qualified mathematics teachers with the view of upgrading.

  3.5 GMMDU at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (Annexures 14-15)

The Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Unit at the NMMU reported on two programmes that are aimed at addressing the skills development needs of in-service Mathematics teachers at the FET level. The first one is an accredited programme that focusses on Grade 11 & 12 content across the CAPS curriculum and is delivered as two short learning programmes (six- months each). The delivery mode of the mathematics skills development programme (MATHSUP) is a semi-distance basis with nine contact days of structure face-to-face instruction for each SLP. Both formal and informal assessments form part of the programme and each SLP is concluded with the writing of a paper-based 3-hour examination. A laptop, calculator and a comprehensive set of digital support material, that is CAPS aligned, is distributed to each teacher who register for the programme. A techno-blended approach is followed and training also include some relevant content pedagogy and ICT skills development (GeoGebra for example) in the context of the delivery of the CAPS curriculum in classrooms.

The MATHSUP programme for educators were successfully delivered to more than 500 in-service teachers in the Eastern Cape and Free State Provinces over the past three years.

The GMMDU also reported on a structured GeoGebra certification programme for beginner-users that was offered to in-service mathematics teachers at secondary school level. The programme teaches the utilization of GeoGebra to strengthen the T&L of key concepts and results through dynamic visualization and multiple representation. Four key areas of the CAPS curriculum are covered. This short learning programme runs over six months and is in the process of being registered with SACE.

  3.6 North-West University (Annexures 16-19)

Northwest university reported on three short learning programmes, which, respectively, targets Foundation Phase, Intermediate and Senior Phase and FET educators. These are of 3 days duration and were introduced in 2014/5. They also run one day colloquia for teachers at three-monthly intervals.


Given the amount of time and energy that was spent to initiate, implement and follow-up on responses to the teacher training survey, one can only conclude that there seems to be very few structured professional development training programmes that are actively supporting in-service mathematics teachers to cope with a range of challenges that exist in secondary schools. The responses suggest that more in-service support programmes exist to support Senior Phase than for the FET phase. Both the scope and the nature of existing programmes seems to be totally un-coordinated and not always aligned with key aspects of the national MST development plan of the DoBE. Even the South African Council of Educators, which is the custodian of professional skills development of teachers in SA, seems to have a very limited database of potential service providers and structured programmes to cover the broad spectrum of skills demands that currently exist in the mathematics education profession at secondary school level. Much work is needed to ascertain the true capacity, expertise and experience that exist in provinces to assist with the mammoth task of improving the content knowledge, content pedagogy, ICT- and other related professional skills of in-service mathematics teachers in this country. The ACM strongly support the proposal that SAMF arrange a 2-day seminar in 2016 to give all respondents to this survey and other key stakeholders that opportunity to share more practical information about the existing professional development programmes for in-service FET mathematics teachers and to conceptualize possible strategies to profile generic priority focus areas of such programmes.

For the full report (in pdf document) ..