Mathematics teachers in the Venda region of Limpopo need to disclose the secret behind their high success rate 

Published On: 30 August 2023|

South Africa needs to study why TshiVenda communities produce an astronomical number of actuaries for this country, and why the Venda region of the Limpopo province consistently produces the highest pass rate in mathematics in the whole of South Africa’s basic schooling system. These were the opening words of Dr Marcia Socikwa, Deputy Director-General in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) at the recent colloquium of three communities of practice of Universities South Africa (USAf).

Dr Socikwa (left) was addressing the Joint Colloquium on Multilingualism in the teaching and learning of Mathematics in Higher Education – Enabling Success, that was hosted from Stellenbosch University’s Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS). The event gathered around 50 senior academics representing USAf’s Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of African Language (CoPAL), the Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics (TLM CoP) and the Education Deans’ Forum (EDF).

The meeting was hosted at Stellenbosch University on 17 August.

She said she was very curious to engage mathematics teachers in the Venda region herself, with intent to understand why they excel in mathematics teaching. “We should study with great interest what they are doing right, that sees their actuaries graduating at ages 21/22, so that we can emulate that, nationally.”

Socikwa said the Colloquium, gathering heavyweights in Mathematics, African Languages and Teacher Education was certainly timely, given the crisis that South Africa was in – that she attributed to the dominance of English in elementary schooling, in broadcasting, in all areas of public life extending to the National Assembly.

“Though being presented as a problem of the past, the marginalisation of indigenous languages is still happening today.” She said instead of the senior academics preaching to their converted selves in this meeting, they should have had the executives from the national public broadcaster (the SABC) sitting in this meeting and appreciating the value of mainstreaming African Languages.

She said she knew from the time she sat on the SABC Board back in 2020, that “the SABC generates most revenue from isiZulu language stations – both radio and television – yet the business sector still chooses to place adverts predominantly in English.”

Part of the Colloquium audience of mathematicians, linguists, and education deans.

To the skeptics questioning whether government could sustain equal use of 12 languages including Sign Language, Dr Socikwa said “each language introduces another layer of economic activity to another language group. Multilingualism promotes the rights of all, as provided in Section 6 of our Constitution, which speaks of parity of esteem, including Khoi, Nama and SAN languages. This is therefore an opportunity to restore the dignity of the languages that were marginalised in colonialism, especially during the first three years of schooling.

Passion, not monetary incentives, should drive us

“We need to compel language speakers to sustain the required standard of African languages the way Afrikaners did for their language for 100 years,” the DDG went on to say.

Regarding constant requests in higher education for funding to promote African Languages, Dr Socikwa said she was always intrigued by how Afrikaners developed their language without any monetary incentives.  “Why must it be different for other groups? Why must money be the only determining factor? Passion, not money, should drive us. It is passion that brought me to this colloquium to explore the intersection of languages and mathematics. Maths should not be feared on account of it being taught in English. We should be able to sleep and dream of figures in maths – not fear it for being spoken in non-indigenous languages.

R70m allocated to Higher Education to promote multilingualism

She announced that the government had, nonetheless, set aside the R70 million budget in 2023 to develop multilingualism, “which we hope will foster what we’re about today.”

Adding that each university qualifies for R1.35m per year over the next three years, Dr Socikwa appealed to the senior academics to go on and test their ideas through research and use their findings to inform future policies.  She emphasised the need to incorporate an impact analysis of mainstreaming multilingualism to motivate for more funding in the coming years – cautioning – in the process, of the serious problems faced by the fiscus, that have been worsened by the Eskom crisis.

‘Mateboho Green is the Manager: Corporate Communication at Universities SA.