Reflection on the training of teachers

Reflection on the training of teachers for the CAPS mathematics
curriculum – a brief report


Prof WA Olivier

(Advisory Committee on Mathematics - SAMF)

The information that is reflected in this report serves to inform the SAMF management of relevant developments linked to the implementation of the CAPS mathematics curriculum in schools. Informal interviews and qualitative surveys amongst a representative sample of subject advisors and in-service teachers from two provinces (one coastal and one in the interior of the country) informed statements that are made about the status and impact of the CAPS mathematics training programmes for teachers. Some background is provided to contextualize the national CAPS training programme for teachers. Although the report is informal, it clearly highlights a number of key challenges that mathematics teachers faced during and in the wake of the implementation of the new CAPS curriculum. Some pertinent conclusions are made with regard to CAPS training of Mathematics teachers at district level. A number of recommendations are made with the aim of optimizing the impact of the CAPS Maths training of in-service teachers in future.

Background to CAPS Curriculum

Numerous complaints and comments were received by the Minister of Basic Education in 2009 regarding the implementation of the NCS curriculum. Some of the main issues raised were:

  • overburdening of teachers with administrative tasks that has led to teacher overload;
  • different interpretations of the curriculum requirements across the country and in different schools;
  • growing levels of learner underperformance in literacy and numeracy.

In July 2009, the Minister of Basic Education appointed a panel of curriculum experts external to the Department to investigate the curriculum implementation challenges. The mandate of this panel included

  • the identification of challenges and pressure points in the implementation of the NCS curriculum;
  • investigation into how such challenges could be addressed;
  • development of a set of practical interventions to respond to the noted challenges.

The panel consulted a range of stakeholders in 2010 and came up with a series of recommendations that included the

  • rationalization of existing NCS documents into a single set of simple and coherent curriculum documents per subject per phase from Grades R-12;
  • introduction of regular external annual assessment of Mathematics, Home Language and English First Additional Language in Grades 3, 6 and 9;
  • increased focus on strengthening of teacher and in-service training;
  • re-assertion of the role of textbooks and the provision thereof for all learners. The Minister of Basic Education invited stakeholder bodies and members of the public to comment on the newly developed Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements by means of Government Notice (DBE, 2010). After a broad consultation process, the revised CAPS, which incorporated the public comments, were submitted to the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) on 2 June 2011 for the Minister to declare them as policy.

The Intended CAPS implementation Plan

CAPS represents an amendment to the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) Grades R-12, so that the curriculum is more accessible to teachers. The aim is that every subject in each grade will have a single, comprehensive and concise Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) that will provide details on what content teachers ought to teach and assess on a grade-by-grade and subject– by-subject basis. There is clear delineation of topics for each subject and a recommendation on the number and type of assessments per term. Outcomes and assessment standards were changed to be called topics and themes and learning areas became known as subjects.

The Department of Basic Education has a five year plan (starting in 2011) to support teachers.

For all relevant subjects the following schedule for the implementation of the CAPS curriculum was adopted:

  • 2012 Implementation in Grades R – 3 and Grade 10
  • 2013 Implementation in Grades 4 – 9 and Grade 11
  • 2014 Implementation in Grade 12.

Preparations for the above phases of the CAPS implementation saw a plethora of activities being introduced since 2011. In various subjects, these activities mostly included

  • workshops for officials, principals and districts;
  • teacher orientation and training;
  • textbook preparation and procurement;
  • guideline documents for teachers.

Between April and May 2011 thousands of subject advisors in 9 provinces attended orientation workshops on CAPS. Mathematics was one of the six subjects that were targeted by the DBE for intense discussion during these workshop sessions. At national level, training toolkits for relevant grades have been revised based on the feedback from these training sessions and were used across the system for subsequent CAPS training purposes. The view of the DBE was that assessment needed to be strengthened as the implementation of the CAPS unfolds. There is also a view that assessment should not be too prescriptive during this process.

The responsibility for the training and support of teachers in the implementation of the CAPS in the classroom from 2012 onwards rested with the provincial departments and the districts. It was clearly stated in the CAPS implementation plan that orientation and training of teachers and managers is fundamental for the effective implementation of CAPS.

CAPS amendments to NCS Mathematics curriculum

The main change across the FET phase is that most of the work covered previously in the optional Paper 3 for Mathematics is now included in the core Maths curriculum. These sections are: Euclidean Geometry and Probability. To allow for this Linear Programming, Transformational Geometry and Recursive Sequences have been removed from the new curriculum. A number of minor adjustments to the content of the NCS Maths curriculum were also introduced.

Grade 10:

a) New for Trigonometry:
     The reciprocal trigonometric functions are introduced.
     Derivation of the values of the trig functions for the special angles.

b) New for Probability:
     Comparison of theoretical probability & relative frequency.
     Use of Venn diagrams to assist in solving problems.
     Identify mutually exclusive & complementary events.
     Use of the law P(A or B) = P(A) + P(B) – P(A and B)

Grade 11:
a) Geometry – NEW: Geometry of circles is covered, including tangent theorems.
b) Statistics – NEW: Bivariate data has moved to Gr 12.
c) Probability – NEW: Identify dependent & independent events; Use Venn diagrams, contingency tables and Tree diagrams to solve probability problems.

Grade 12:
a) Geometry – NEW: The geometry of similar triangles is covered, including Pythagorean Theorem proved by similarity.
b) Probability – NEW: Fundamental counting principles are covered and then incorporated into probability problems.
c) Algebra – NEW: Remainder & factor theorem covered.
d) Statistics – NEW: Bivariate data studied, including scatter plots; regression lines and correlation coefficients. (Maskew Miller Longman, 2012)

The critical question to be answered in all of the above is:

Was the CAPS training of FET Mathematics teachers adequate?

In what follows the discussion will be based on evidence of CAPS training that was presented as feedback in surveys that were completed by groups of in-service CAPS Maths teachers and subject advisors at a district level in two provinces.

The (thus far) realized CAPS Mathematics Implementation Plan:

Clear evidence exists that a comprehensive plan for the CAPS Mathematics training of teachers and stakeholder officials has been implemented at national and provincial levels since 2011. Information on the nature and number of training sessions has been carried in the media on a regular basis (see for example Vodacom Digital Classroom, 2012). Mathematics subject advisors in all provinces were called upon to attend focused CAPS training at national level on a regular basis over the past two years. CAPS training at national and provincial level was generally assigned to well qualified and skilled subject specialists. Evidence suggests that this training, which mostly took place during school holiday periods, was of a high standard and that all relevant CAPS amendments to the NCS curriculum were covered sufficiently.

Evidence at district level

In general, CAPS training in districts was conducted by subject advisors and selected local teachers in a particular province. A number of informal interviews with selected subject advisors and an informal qualitative survey amongst a group of 50 subject advisors were conducted across districts in two provinces. Some of the responses are summarized below:

  • Subject advisors by and large confirmed that they experienced the training at national level as adequate and of good quality.
  • As officials that were mostly responsible for the delivery of the CAPS training in districts, the respondents rated, as expected, the quality of the CAPS training programme as adequate and of a good standard.
  • It is clear from the responses that there were very little or no quality assurance measuring instruments in place to gauge the impact of the content components of the CAPS training that was presented.
  • Subject advisors expressed the need to have access to more resources and equipment to deliver CAPS training effectively.
  • Some subject advisors pointed out that teachers who need training the most have missed critical CAPS sessions and had to attend secondary hastily arranged auxiliary sessions which saw only a fraction of the time that was initially planned being spent on training.

A second survey amongst 150 in-service Mathematics teachers from several districts in two provinces was conducted to get a sense of the spread of their CAPS training experiences. Some of the questions which were put to the group included:

1. Did the CAPS training in your district equip you to teach the new syllabus with confidence and understanding? Yes/No
2. Was sufficient time spent on the training for you to cope with the new topics in the CAPS curriculum? Yes/No
3. Were those used to do the CAPS training with you well equipped for the task? Yes/No
4. Was a structured programme used to deal with the new CAPS syllabus for Mathematics? Yes/No
5. Were local or external expertise used to conduct CAPS training and was the arrangement(s) effective? Yes/No

Subjects were asked to elaborate on or justify their answers in all cases.

In stark contrast to the corresponding evaluation of the CAPS training of teachers from the point of view of the subject advisors, the views amongst teachers were much more negative towards what transpired.

In what follows, a summary of relevant responses are presented:

  • In the majority of cases teachers reported that only two days were spent to cover the new topics and changes linked to the Grade 11 curriculum.
  • Some districts have reportedly received no or very little CAPS training.
  • Most of the teachers agreed that not enough time was spent during training to assimilate new content information.
  • It seems that the content pre-knowledge of many teachers is not adequate to digest new content information on the basis of a short once-off training session.
  • A sizable portion of the CAPS training was in some cases spent to revise CAPS amendments to assessment and related administrative practices.
  • In many instances, teachers expressed uncertainty about how to implement the expected CAPS amendments in the classroom.
  • No or inadequate quality assurance tools were employed to measure the effectiveness of the CAPS training at district level.
  • Teachers often complained about the lack of on-going Mathematics content support and general skills training.
  • In a few cases it was reported that un-trained teachers were asked to do CAPS training.
  • Apparently some CAPS training sessions consisted only of distribution of booklets and pamphlets.
  • It appears from responses that the content knowledge and training skills of some subject advisors were completely inadequate.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Evidence seems to suggest that the CAPS training of Mathematics teachers across the surveyed provinces has followed a programme that started with a well-designed programme at national level. The focus was initially on the training of subject advisors from different provinces after which the CAPS training was cascaded to provincial and district levels. In most instances trained subject advisors were used or made responsible for the dissemination of CAPS information and the training of teachers at district level. Evidence from teacher accounts suggests that in many cases subject advisors, or those who presented CAPS training at district level on their behalf, were not knowledgeable or competent enough to do justice to the intended training. Clear evidence exists of a great need for more CAPS and related Maths content training for many Maths teachers at FET level. In this regard the content skills needs of teachers seems to be much greater than the need to receive additional training on how to implement revised CAS and exam administration. Special efforts to establish a cohort of certified specialist CAPS trainers in provinces will go a long way to ensure that the quality of the national CAPS training programme is implemented in a more effective and balanced way at district level.


Coetzee, A., (2012). The South African schools curriculum: from NCS to CAPS, News and Events, College of Education, UNISA, Available from (accessed May 2013)

Department of Basic Education (DBE) (2010). Government. Notice No. 784 in Government Gazette No. 33528

Department of Basic Education (DBE) (2010). Integrated Strategic Planning Framework for Teacher Education and Development in South Africa 2011–2025. Technical Report, Available from (accessed May 2013)

Department of Basic Education (DBE) (2011). Curriculum News. Improving the quality of learning and teaching . Strengthening Curriculum implementation from 2010 and beyond, Available from (accessed May 2013)

Maskew Miller Longman (2012). CAPS: Curriculum Information & Resources, FET Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS), information accessed May 2013)

Vodacom Digital Classroom (2012). Education news. Training for new 2013 curriculum underway, Available from training-for-new-2013-curriculum-underway (accessed May 2013)