At the recent Joint Colloquium on Multilingualism in the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics – Enhancing Success, Dr Mziwoxolo Krexe of theDepartment of Adult, Foundation Phase and Educational Foundations Educationat Walter Sisulu University spoke on Something isn’t adding up in our mathematics classes – lessons from Mthatha.
The Colloquium, an initiative of Universities South Africa (USAf), was a collaboration between three of USAf’s communities of practice: the one for the teaching and learning of mathematics (TLM CoP), another for the teaching and learning of African languages (CoPAL), and the Education Deans’ Forum (EDF).
The meeting was facilitating the exchange of ideas among educators, researchers, and policymakers, as they explored the intersection of multilingualism and mathematics education. It was hosted on 17 August, at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) at Stellenbosch University (SU).
He presented an extensive outline of literature on the subject. This included a 2017 report in the Mail & Guardian that South Africa has one engineer for every 2600 people as opposed to the international norm of one for every 40 people. The report also stated how actuaries, who assess and manage the risks of financial investments, insurance policies, and other potentially risky ventures, comprise 0,1% of those who work in the financial sector.
“One would wonder why we have so few professionals that pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related careers? There may be a high possibility that learners run away from any career that requires mathematical competence, due to a lack of confidence in and fear of the subject,” said Dr Krexe.
He said it was found that South African mathematics teachers use a traditional approach based on transmission and absorption of knowledge, which produces learners who learn by rote, follow the rules, and supply answers that please the teacher.
Research had revealed that concentration and attention difficulties, learning difficulties and disabilities, and lack of patience contributed to South African leaners performing badly in maths.
A shortage of competent and confident qualified mathematics teachers was a key contributing factor.
Jansen said that learners in former black-only schools continued to deliver abysmal results whereas those in former white-only schools were performing on a par with their contemporaries in Europe and America.
“Could our approach to teaching of mathematics be to blame for their poor performance?” said Dr Krexe. “As long as we stick to the traditional method of teaching, our learners will continue to perform poorly because this method allows the teacher to do everything and the learners to be passive listeners.
“Could it be the quality of the teachers? Yes. Most of the teachers in the school system now are products of Bantu education. They are the ones that Jansen referred to as under educated.”
Krexe distributed 18 questionnaires to the schools and got back 11. That was sufficient to show, he said, that “even newly qualified young teachers rely on the traditional method of teaching mathematics”.
Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.