USAf’s three Communities of Practice to explore Multilingualism in the teaching and learning of mathematics at universities

Published On: 11 July 2023|

August 17 is a very special day for Universities South Africa (USAf), the representative body of South Africa’s 26 public universities. It marks the gathering of three of its communities of practice (CoP) at a joint in-person-only colloquium at Stellenbosch University (SU) to explore Multilingualism in the teaching and learning of mathematics in higher education. The three participating groups are the CoP for the Teaching and Learning of African languages (CoPAL), the CoP for the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics (TLM CoP) and the Education Deans’ Forum (EDF).

This is a rare and excellent opportunity for communities of practice from intersecting subject areas to come together and share their knowledge and good practices. Up to 27 representatives from each group are expected to attend.

At CoPAL’s recent meeting that brought 40 members to the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, Professor Mbulungeni Mabida (left), Dean of the Faculty of Education at SU and a member of both CoPAL and the EDF, outlined the significance of the meeting, also mentioning that CoPAL and the TLM CoP were established at the same time in 2015.

“Right from the beginning, we knew there was this relationship,” Professor Madiba, who went on to become the inaugural Chair of CoPAL during its formative years, said. “Some of the problems that are being experienced in mathematics are undoubtedly language problems because you find students who are struggling are not mother tongue speakers of English. So, as the EDF, we felt we need to bring the three committees together to see how we can move forward.’’

The joint engagement is also part of USAf’s strategic drive for greater collaboration among its groups to make a bigger impact in the higher education sector.

Some of the 40 members of CoPAL who attended the 20 June meeting that was hosted at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria.

Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa, current Chairperson of CoPAL and Dean and Head of School of Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), asked if any CoPAL members knew of people at their institutions who had done research linked to the teaching of mathematics and African languages. She mentioned Professor Rosemary Wildsmith-Cromarty, formerly at UKZN and now at North-West University, who had researched and co-published with Mary Gordon on the role of the home language, including isiXhosa and isiZulu, in learning mathematics and science in English-medium classrooms. She said these scholars would be ideal presenters to share their findings at the colloquium.

The Deputy Chairperson of CoPAL, Professor Loli Makhubu-Badenhorst, who is the University of Cape Town’s Director of the Multilingualism Education Project in the Centre for Higher Education Development, said the programme for the colloquium is still being finalised.

Another important upcoming date for CoPAL is the third Vice-Chancellor’s Colloquium to take forward universities’ deliberations on government’s Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education Institutions, which was promulgated in 2020 and came into effect in 2022. The 2023 meeting will this year be hosted from UKZN towards the end of the year.

Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa