In the week starting on 15 March 2021, Grade 4 to 7 learners from Sweet Valley Primary School in the Western Cape will join others from across the country in the first round of the annual NESTLÉ NESPRAY South African Mathematics Challenge (SAMC).
For the past ten years, Sweet Valley Primary School's deputy principal, Mr Mark Rushby, registered all the school's learners to participate in this prestigious mathematics competition. Last year, the school received recognition for being the Top Overall Performing School at the South African Mathematics Foundation's (SAMF) award ceremony for the fifth consecutive year.
"Over the last ten years, we have worked very hard at changing the teachers' approach to mathematics teaching," explains Rushby. "We believe that teachers must approach mathematics as a problem-solving activity. Therefore, the emphasis in our classrooms is not on routine skills but on creating classrooms in which thinking is encouraged."
Alwyn Olivier, the academic coordinator for the Challenge, describes that the competition is not just another scholastic test. "The Challenge questions aim to develop conceptual knowledge, problem-solving, reasoning, communication and general mathematical thinking. We want the Challenge to help South Africans to become empowered, independent, creative and critical thinkers."
Rushby further explains that routine curriculum problems aren't real problems. "The reality is that, in most schools, teachers present mathematics as a set of procedures to memorise, and thus the pupils are required to spend their mathematics time regurgitating these procedures. The Challenge, on the other hand, does not rely on routine procedures that are learnt in school. Many of the problems will depend on reasoning and insight, rather than calculation skill."
One often finds that there are learners who get bored with mathematics at their schools. According to Rushby, some learners do well at the Challenge, while not excelling at school mathematics. "It is crucial that teachers do not present mathematics as something only for the brightest pupils, or that only the most brilliant pupils should test themselves in the Challenge. That is why all Sweet Valley Primary School learners from Grade 4 to 7 participate."
Registration for the Challenge is open, and teachers can download the entry form on the SAMF website (www.samf.ac.za). Registration for entries closes on 5 March 2021.