Added value: maths boffins help teachers up their game

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Added value: maths boffins help teachers up their game

Schools across SA get a maths boost as academics help teachers improve their pupils' woeful results

Journalist


When teachers became the pupils to some of the country’s top maths boffins, the ripples were quickly felt by the youngsters in school.
This is one of the most significant findings to emerge from the interventions offered by these academics who were appointed to university chairs in a bid to improve maths teaching and learning in the country’s schools.
This follows pupils’ woeful performance in the subject despite numerous efforts by provincial education departments over the years to improve results.
Last year, only 51.9% of matric pupils passed maths at 30% and above.
The teachers who took part in programmes offered by six of the country’s top maths boffins were found to have increased their own knowledge of the subject.
The evidence-based findings will be revealed to policy makers, school management teams, teachers and pupils on October 2.
The research revealed that for substantial maths learning gains to be made in schools, the majority of the maths teachers in the targeted grades need to participate in and commit to the programme.
Four of the six professors, who were all part of the Mathematics Education Chairs Initiative (MECI) launched in 2010, focused on training high school teachers. The trainers included Jill Adler (University of the Witwatersrand), Cyril Julie (University of the Western Cape), Werner Olivier (Nelson Mandela University) and Marc Schafer (Rhodes University).
By numbers
73.9%: the percentage of matrics who passed maths literacy last year;
51.9%: the percentage of matrics who passed maths last year;
R60.4m: the amount contributed so far by the First Rand Foundation towards the MECI initiative.
Those involved in the training of primary school teachers were Mellony Graven (Rhodes University) and Hamsa Venkat (Wits).
Other important findings included:
• Pupils’ maths performance was also improved through specific programmes offered to them that were designed by the academics;
• Increasing enrolments in maths in grades 10 to 12 remains a challenge;
• Pupils taught by teachers who took part in courses implemented by the chairs improved their maths performance.
There was an increase in the number of pupils in project schools passing Grade 12 maths with 60% or higher.
The professors are co-funded by the National Research Foundation, FirstRand Foundation, Rand Merchant Bank and the Anglo-American Chairman’s Fund.
The goals of the coalition of leading maths minds in the country was to improve the quality of maths teaching and results, to research practical solutions to the maths challenges in the country, and to provide leadership on maths education.
The MECI was founded by the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.
Western Cape pupils in the project schools, who participated in a project known as LEDIMTALI, which was initiated by Professor Julie, performed slightly better in maths than their peers from similar schools.
The LEDIMTALI project schools showed, on average, a 3% increase in the matric pass rate.
Professor Venkat, who worked with primary school teachers, found that carefully planned interventions that were mathematically focused were found to improve pupils’ performance.
Professor Adler told the Sunday Times that the chairs were able to integrate knowledge and practices on the ground in schools with a “well-informed and ongoing research process”.
Her cohort of teachers met once a week after school for three consecutive weeks to plan a lesson on a topic of concern for teachers.
Teachers studying their own teaching with their pupils and with researchers working with them, has well-known benefits, she said.
“It has enormous potential for building professional practice if the appropriate resources and time are invested.”
Adler is providing training to about 40 mostly Grade 8 and 9 teachers from seven education districts in Gauteng this year.
“Teachers come out of school for 16 days in a year. They need time to do mathematics and they need time in between sessions to work on it independently for themselves. That’s been a success of the course.”
She said teaching was a deliberate act that involved planning and thinking about what you wanted to teach.
“Teachers have said to us over and over again that they now plan their teaching much more carefully, they select the examples more carefully and they pay attention to what’s in the textbook.”
Sizwe Nxasana, chairperson of the FirstRand Foundation, one of the key funders of the MECI, said the key idea of next week’s launch of the report was to share best practices and to focus on what needs to be done to improve maths education in the country.

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