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Teaching mathematics is a calling

On 19 June 2021, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences Schools Enrichment Centre (AIMSSEC) announced Bianca Chimanikire from the Leap Science and Maths School in Jane Furse, Sekhukhune East District, Limpopo as the top student for its 2021 Language and Communication to develop mathematical knowledge, understanding and skills for the 21st Century (LC SAMO 2) Online Course. The South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) coordinated the training, which was sponsored by Old Mutual.

Bianca started her career as a science teacher in Zimbabwe in 2002. Little did she know that she would find her calling when she accepted a position at a school in South Africa seven years later. "The mathematics teacher at the time left the school on short notice, and the principal asked me to stand in for her. Three years later, I was teaching both science and mathematics," she says. "Because the principal was impressed with the performance of the learners in my mathematics class, he asked me to remain in the position and recruited a new science teacher instead."

Finally, Bianca could teach the subject she loves most. When she applied to study teaching, her first choice was mathematics. "But, because there was a shortage of science teachers, the tertiary institution decided to channel me into teaching science."

It is common knowledge that mathematics education in South Africa is facing many difficulties. Because there is a shortage of mathematics teachers, the biggest challenge for Bianca is the number of learners per class. "When I was teaching at a public school, my smallest Grade 9 group had 78 learners," she explains. "At one of the other schools, I had 269 Grade 9 learners divided into three classes. It is impossible to give each learner the attention they deserve when groups are so big. The ideal class size is 25 to 30 learners."

Despite all the challenges, Bianca finds joy in teaching mathematics. She recalls one specific learner who made her proud of being a mathematics teacher. "When Pearl* transferred to my Grade 12 class, she failed mathematics in Grades 10 and 11. Through hard work and dedication, Pearl passed the subject at the end of the year. She went ahead to become a passionate and skilled mathematics teacher!"

Parents and learners often dismiss the importance of learning mathematics at school. "As a subject, mathematics develops logical thinking. It teaches you thinking skills that you can apply in all other subjects and life," says Bianca. "You will find that the person selling tomatoes on the corner of the street, who passed mathematics, have a different approach to their business than someone who did not take mathematics at school."

According to Bianca, mathematics is the mother of all sciences. That is why she enters all the learners at the school where she teaches into the annual Old Mutual South African Mathematics Olympiad (SAMO). "Before COVID-19, it was challenging to find the time to train the learners for the Olympiad because we must focus on the school curriculum to cover the syllabus for the year," she explains. "But, one good thing came out of the pandemic. Because the school could not practice sports, the usual Wednesday sports-time became the time when I would train all the school's learners for the Mathematics Olympiad."

Now that takes a mathematics teacher with passion! "I realise that teaching mathematics is my calling," Bianca concluded. "I am thankful towards Old Mutual, who made it possible for me to attend the AIMSSEC LC SAMO 2 Online Course this year. I thought I knew it all, but academics in education constantly develop new methods that improve the way we teach. Therefore, I encourage all mathematics teachers to attend this training. It will open your eyes to new possibilities and help improve your school's performance in mathematics."

*Name changed to protect the identity of the learner.

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One hundred and nine teachers attended the Mathematical Thinking course online in August 2020 following the cancellation of the residential module due to COVID-19. Ninety-five teachers who obtained merit or distinction in the 1st level last year continued with the Language and Communication to develop mathematical knowledge, understanding and skills for the 21st Century course this year. The courses format combines home-study, writing assignments and participation in live sessions on Saturdays via Google Meet and Classroom.

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