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Improving Mathematics Outcomes Through Teacher Training

First published in Business Media Mags

In an effort to improve mathematics education in South Africa, the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) is working in partnership with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences’ Schools Enrichment Centre (AIMSSEC), to provide extensive teacher training to help improve the country’s mathematics outcomes.

Through partnerships like these, the SAMF hopes to close the gap between previously disadvantaged communities and others to improve entry into mathematics and science careers for learners.

Mathematics outcomes in South Africa are amongst the worst in the world. It is a widespread issue and one that continues to worsen year on year.

One needs only to look at the 2022 National Senior Certificate (NSC) results to see the issue. The Department of Basic Education reports reveal that of the 269 734 who took mathematics in matric, only 55% of learners passed the NSC. While this percentage might look good on paper, when you look more closely you will notice that of the matrics who passed, only 22% passed with a grade above 60%.

It is not just matrics we need to worry about.

A recent study ranking the mathematics and science abilities of grade 5 learners around the world reveals that just 37% of South African grade 5s have a basic understanding of mathematics. These outcomes deteriorate even further by the time learners reach grade 9.

The problem, as many would suggest, is not a lack of funding. South Africa spends about 6% of its GDP on education (this is comparable to other equivalent-sized economies). Instead, one of the biggest factors is the quality of our mathematics educators.

“Poorly qualified teachers are a huge concern and it will take years to improve their content knowledge and pedagogical approaches especially in rural South Africa if we are to close the gap between previously disadvantaged communities and others with respect to transition rates into mathematics and science careers for learners later on in life,” explains SAMF Executive Director, Prof Kerstin Jordaan. “Without significant and urgent interventions, our mathematics outcomes will worsen.”

In an effort to improve mathematics education, SAMF, in partnership with AIMSSEC and Old Mutual, have invested three years to training a group of 106 secondary school teachers with the aim of making a difference to the skills and content knowledge of these educators.

Through a three-part virtual course, facilitated by international and local lecturers, teachers were able to improve their mathematical thinking, mathematical communication and language and differentiation and were also upskilled in how to include these skills in the teaching and learning of this subject.

The knock-on effects of this intervention speak for themselves. Not only did the teachers’ post-test scores show improvement from their pre-test scores, indicating that the course improved their own mathematical knowledge, but the results for the learners of teachers whose schools participate in the SAMF’s annual Old Mutual South African Mathematics Olympiad (SAMO) improved too.

“Jane Furse Comprehensive School in Limpopo is one of the schools whose teachers participated in the teacher courses. When reviewing its participation in the SAMO over the last three consecutive years, we’ve witnessed a staggering increase in the percentage of learners qualifying for the Second Round from 48% in 2020 to 73% in 2022. This is proof that the school’s teachers were not only able to increase the relevance of mathematics to the learners by exposing them to the world of mathematical problem solving but were able to deepen their engagement with mathematics as well, remarks Professor Jordaan.

But, says Professor Jordaan, to make a real and tangible difference in improving our country’s mathematics outcomes, more must be done.

“By providing leadership, support and guidance to grass-root initiatives by mathematics educators and researchers, SAMF is committed to contributing to improvements in the educational landscape of our country. For us to truly improve mathematics education, we need passionate partners and resources that can help empower teachers to generate an interest in mathematics and promote mathematical activity,” she concludes.

If you or your company want to get involved in changing the future of mathematics in the country, contact Patrick Rasehwete, SAMF’s Engagement Manager, via email at rasehwetep@samf.ac.za.

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