Mathematics Foundation Phase CAPS Textbooks

A Report on the Foundation Phase Mathematics CAPS Textbooks: Commissioned by
the Advisory Committee on Mathematics (ACM)

Report by Ms Ingrid Sapire (University of the Witwatersrand) and Ms Elspeth Khembo

(Gauteng Primary Literacy and Mathematics Strategy)

This is a report on the quality of the Mathematics textbooks in Foundation Phase (FP) suitable to support the implementation of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS). We look first at the background relating to the changing use of textbooks in the FP in South Africa since the introduction of curricular changes in the country starting from 1996 until 2013. Attitudes towards the use of textbooks are highlighted by reference to several key reports written during this period. We then offer some insight into the quality of the mathematics textbooks currently available in Foundation Phase (gained through a formal provincial screening process). Aspects of mathematical content as well as quality of translation are discussed in the light of FP language policy requirements. Finally we present views on the value of multilingual materials for the support of multilingual classrooms so prevalent in South Africa. We end the report with a brief conclusion and some recommendations.

1. Background – the use of text books in South African schools

Curricular changes in South Africa have run parallel with varying views on the development and use of textbook resources in schools which have not always been beneficial to the school teaching and learning community. Between 1996 – 1998 under Curriculum 2005 policy, textbooks were presented in a poor light and teachers were discouraged from using them. The strong push in the C2005 years for teachers to produce their own resources rather than use resources developed by commercial materials developers unfortunately led to resistance on the part of some teachers when the use of resources was once again encouraged with the implementation of the National Curriculum Statements (NCS). Taylor noted this is his report, What’s wrong with South African Schools? saying, “Teachers have turned their backs on what is common practice around the world – [the use of school textbooks]” (2008, p24). Taylor‟s report strongly advocated the use of text books in schools, pointing out their usefulness: “A good textbook contains, in a single source, a comprehensive study programme for the year- it lays the curriculum out systematically providing expositions of the concepts, definitions of the terms and symbols of the subject in question, worked examples of standard and non-standard problems, lots of graded exercises, and answers” (2008, p19). Textbooks can facilitate the job of a teacher effectively because they offer guidance on the following:

  • ensuring curriculum content coverage
  • enabling assessment coverage
  • offering appropriate pacing and weighting of content
  • assisting teachers with lesson and year planning.

Taylor‟s report was followed a year later by the The Report of the Task Team for the Review of the Implementation of the National Curriculum Statement Final Report October 2009, Pretoria, (pages 51-54), which clearly contextualised the importance of textbooks in South African mathematics classrooms but at the same time noted several challenges that arose during NCS curriculum years when production of learner textbooks burgeoned, resulting in a large and unevenly quality assured set of textbooks on the market. The challenges that were highlighted included:

  • Uneven quality of textbooks.
  • Insufficient provisioning of textbooks for all learners.
  • Teachers not working systematically through a single book - teachers were encouraged to „dip in and out‟ of textbooks, and to develop their own worksheets and other curriculum support materials.

Most recently, the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU) National Report 2012 (May 2013) notes that there is still resistance to the use of textbooks particularly in the Foundation Phase (FP), stating that, “[t]here was a consensus across the schools evaluated that maths textbooks as such, were not appropriate in the FP. This attitude towards maths textbooks in the FP reflects the ubiquitous worksheet culture that dominates South African schools.” (2013, p.43). The NEEDU report refers to the DBE learner workbooks as an “important initiative” (p.43) noting that these workbooks have been mandated for use “supplementary to the textbooks purchased annually by schools” (p.43). The report also notes that “in the large majority of classes learners were not issued with textbooks in mathematics” (p.43). This report was written with the latest curriculum policy development in place – CAPS, but the attitudes towards the use of mathematics textbooks do not seem to have shifted significantly since C2005 and although the national workbooks have been provided, textbooks to which these workbooks are proposed as supplementary resources are not present in schools. All of these points are important when considering the issue of Foundation Phase CAPS mathematics textbooks.

2. Language policy in the Foundation Phase and FP textbook provision

In response to the language policy currently in force that encourages the use of Home language as the language of learning and teaching (LoLT) in Foundation Phase, the The Report of the Task Team for the Review of the Implementation of the National Curriculum Statement also mentioned the importance of language thus (2009, p.65-66):

  • The teaching of English as a First Additional Language should be given priority, both in the provision of appropriate textbooks and reading material, and in clear specification for teaching mother tongue and English as the language of teaching and learning in parallel.
  • English must be taught from Grade 1.
  • The availability of good quality teaching and learning resources for the teaching of African languages must be improved.

A selection of practicing lead teachers and subject advisors in Gauteng used a screening tool to evaluate the Foundation Phase Mathematics textbooks currently in schools. The screening was done with a view to recommending an FP textbook for use in a large scale intervention in the province – the Gauteng Primary Literacy and Mathematics Strategy (GPLMS). The screening process looked at all the books on the national catalogue that had already been screened by experts and the Department of Basic Education focusing on quality of the mathematics textbooks in the national catalogue (2012) and especially those versioned into the nine official languages. The catalogue list of FP mathematics textbooks is available on the Thutong portal .

The results of this screening process were dismal, pointing to the poor quality of the books on the national catalogue list. A template was used in the screening process which called for specific examples (with page references) for comments made (both positive and negative) so that these comments could be followed up with reference to each textbook reviewed (see Appendix A). A summary of the types of issues that arose rather than the examples from particular textbooks was drawn up for the GPLMS screening report. Review comments given by screening committee members suggested the following across the range of mathematics textbooks which were screened (Sapire, 2012).

  • Poor coverage of the CAPS curriculum in most books, particularly the versioned books.
  • Topics were broadly covered but not in enough depth or with enough substance for learners to fully achieve the CAPS requirements should they work conscientiously through the book.
  • The use of inaccurate mathematical language which could lead to inadequate generalization of mathematical terminology and concepts by learners.
  • Worked examples were provided, but the adequacy of the range of examples within the CAPS topics required was not consistent across the text books, and was seen to be lacking in several books.
  • Careful sequencing of topics that would build up learner knowledge and understanding was not well represented across the books.
  • The quality of translation into all official languages from English was not good.
  • Errors of translation of mathematical terms, missing explanations of terms (e.g. terms given without explanation), general language errors (e.g. activity instructions) and faulty layout of mathematical exercises (errors after translation) were found.

The provision of FP mathematics textbooks on the national catalogue list according to this screening needs to be reviewed and reconsidered.

Another issue for consideration in relation to materials provision in the FP is that of a multilingual approach. Such an approach would endorse the current language policy in supporting all of the national languages of South Africa while at the same time promoting improved opportunities for learning. The need for good quality multilingual mathematics material for Foundation Phase learners is supported by academic research (Adler, 2001, Setati & Duma, 2009) as well as ground-roots project activities which have been carried out in South Africa over a period of at least 20 years. The Home Language Project (HLP) has shown both through research and project practice that: The education of the majority of SA scholars is negatively affected by language inequality. Multi-bilingualism is offered as an appropriate post-apartheid approach that can counter the disadvantage of having to use a second language as a medium of instruction. It involves the use of two languages for learning (a common medium plus every learner‟s home language), irrespective of the number of language groups in the class. (2012, p1)

Learners and teachers in the Foundation Phase (FP, Grades 1-3) in South African schools are often faced with a dilemma in mathematics classes as a result of multiple languages present in their classes and a dearth of good quality materials for the support of learning and teaching in these languages. The current language policy for Foundation Phase schools is supportive of a multilingual culture but does not adequately provide for bridging the transition between home language mathematics instruction and the move to learning mathematics in English once learners move into the Intermediate Phase (Grades 4-6). Experience of teachers in the field indicates a need for an interpretation of policy that would optimise learning of maths on the part of the child. This interpretation is supported by a multilingual approach to teaching.

Multilingual materials would pave the way to later mathematics learning, since the support of the “common language” of learning and teaching from early grades would allow learners to be exposed both to the terminology and the conceptual discussions in their home language and in English. This could help to alleviate the situation in the Intermediate Phase where, “when children begin to be taught in English full time, they spent most of their time trying to catch up instead of grasping what they are being taught” (M&G, 2012).

3. Conclusions and Recommendations

Teachers and learners at the FP level in South African schools would benefit from the provision of high quality textbooks although there is still a perceived resistance to the use of textbooks in the FP. Such books would enable teachers to spend more time on task (teaching) rather than spending time developing material (which task they are, for most teachers, ill- equipped to carry out). Textbooks could provide a full year of teaching resources that offer adequate pacing, varied and rich content and appropriate methodology, practice and exercises.

The quality of the textbooks on the national catalogue lists needs to be investigated. This list needs to be revisited and amended if necessary in order to meet the needs of the FP teachers and learners in South African schools. Issues of quality relate both to the mathematical content and the translations. The development of a standardized registry of mathematical terms to be used in the versioning of mathematics books in Foundation Phase into the required official languages should be seriously considered especially if mono-lingual texts are to be provided. Multilingual texts would assist in overcoming differences in versions if they are provided.


  • Review the National Catalogue list of books – checking both mathematical quality and quality of translation into all South African national languages.
  • Provision of textbooks that adequately support a multilingual approach to be considered.
  • The useful role of textbooks and other LTSM needs to be communicated to teachers to overcome the resistance to use of textbooks that remains amongst FP teachers.
  • Foundation Phase classrooms should be adequately provisioned to ensure equity across schools and to allow young learners access to the range of support material necessary to support the curriculum.


1. Adler, J. (2001). Teaching Mathematics in Multilingual Classrooms. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers
2. Mail and Guardian, 27 July 2013, Language policy lets pupils down, Bridge Seminar reported on by Lethabo-Thabo Royds and Barbara Dale-Jones.
3. National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU) National Report 2012. The state of Literacy Teaching and Learning in the Foundation Phase. (May 2013)
4. Owen-Smith, M. (2012), A set of multi-bilingual methodologies to address some current problems in education. “Strategies to overcome poverty and inequality: Towards Carnegie 111”, UCT conference 3-7 September, supported by the National Planning Commission
5. Report of the Task Team for the Review of the Implementation of the National Curriculum Statement Final Report, Pretoria, (2009, pages 51-54).
6. Sapire, I. (2012). Gauteng Primary Literacy and Mathematics Strategy Textbook screening report. Unpublished report. Johannesburg.
7. Setati, M., & Duma, B. (2009). When language is transparent: supporting Mathematics learning multilingual contexts page 235 - 241. AMES A Congress 2009 proceedings
8. Taylor, N. (2008) What's wrong with South African Schools? Presentation to the Conference What's Working in School Development. JET Education Services 28-29.


Appendix A: GPLMS textbook screening template

Evaluation Instrument for Learning and Teaching Support Materials

Grades 1-7

  Subject:   Grade:

  Publisher:   Language:



  Subtitles:   ISBN:   Price:


  Name:   Signature:

Quality Assurer:

  Name:   Signature:

GPLMS Mathematics Textbook Selection Criteria

The textbooks you will evaluate have already been selected for the National Catalogue. The evaluation process to be undertaken with the use of this instrument is to discern which books would be of best quality for use in GPLMS schools.

For each criterion indicate a rating from 1-4.


  • You should give examples from the book to substantiate and validate your rating.
  • You should refer to page(s) in the book to reference the examples that you give.
 Criterion Description Example of excellent/inappropriate use of language/examples/inadequate fulfilment of set criterion (to support your rating). Please include page references. Overall
1 Is the book presented using clear language?   1 2 3 4
2 Is the book presented using accurate language?   1 2 3 4
3 Are mathematical terms presented in a way which is accessible to learners in underperforming schools?   1 2 3 4
4 Are mathematical concepts presented in a way which is accessible to learners in underperforming schools?   1 2 3 4
5 Are mathematical methods presented in a way which is accessible to learners in underperforming schools?   1 2 3 4
6 Does the book have well-chosen worked examples which can be used by both teachers and learners to help them to understand the content?   1 2 3 4
7 Does the book present mathematical terms and definitions as specified in CAPS documents?   1 2 3 4
8 Does the book present material in such a way that it builds the knowledge of the curriculum content in a sequential manner, across one book?   1 2 3 4
9 Does the book present material in such a way that it builds the knowledge of the curriculum content in a sequential manner within the series of books for the phase?   1 2 3 4
10 What is your overall impression of the text as an appropriate text for use in GPLMS schools?   1 2 3 4