Mathematics in SA schools: enough talk, time for action
07 August 2014
The DA has read, with great concern, the latest report on the state of Mathematics teaching in our primary schools. We now call on the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, to use the best Maths and education brains in the country to help her develop and implement a truly effective turnaround strategy to address the shameful state of our maths teaching (see report in The Mercury).
Researchers Nic Spaull and Hamsa Vekatakrishnan (from Stellenbosch and Wits Universities respectively) have used data gathered to produce the Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) 2007 report.
The two (highly-respected) researchers have compared the questions asked of Grade 6 learners and teachers to questions in the South African curriculum, and have been able to deduce, in purely local terms, the level of knowledge of the Grade 6 mathematics teachers tested.
Their findings are summarised as follows:
17% of grade 6 students in South Africa were taught by maths teachers who had content knowledge below a grade 4 or 5 level;
62% of grade 6 students were taught by maths teachers who had a grade 4 or 5 level of content knowledge;
5% of grade 6 students were taught by maths teachers who had a grade 6 or 7 level of content knowledge, and
16% of grade 6 students were taught by maths teachers who had at least a grade 8 or 9 level of content knowledge.
Thus, an astonishing "79% of grade 6 mathematics teachers showed content knowledge levels" below the level at which they were employed to teach.
The inequity within education is highlighted in the report. Almost half of the maths teachers in our most affluent schools were able to answer questions at Grade 8 and 9 level. In our poorer schools, only 10% of Grade 6 teachers could do so.
Spaull and Vekatakrishnan end their report by saying "we would argue that raising student outcomes in mathematics remains a distant pipe dream in South Africa". We hope they are not accurate in this assessment.
This is the most recent in a plethora of reports on the state of mathematics and mathematics teaching in our schools.
The Minister has commissioned her own reports; within the last few months she has received the report of a task team on their investigation into the teaching of Maths, Science and Technology in South African Schools, and, just last month, the report of a second ministerial task team on the quality of the National Senior Certificate.
The reports commissioned by the Minister paint as bleak a picture as does the research independently undertaken.
The DA has welcomed the report on the National Senior Certificate, but understands fully that the quality of learning in any subject, and particularly in Mathematics, cannot be expected to improve at Grade 12 level without the solid foundations required from the first grade of schooling, and all the way through.
The Minister now owes the nation, and particularly every child taking Mathematics at any level in our schools, and every parent of those children, a clear plan of action. She has stated that she has appointed an internal task team to work on the problem. This is highly unlikely to be enough.
The DA calls for an open, frank admission of the problem to be made by Minister Motshekga, followed by a structured utilisation of our many education experts and master teachers to contribute to the development of solutions. Monitoring of the implementation of any strategy is likely to be essential.
The Minister will have to throw energy, money and resources at this problem. She will likely have to be joined by her counterpart in Higher Education. Whether universities are producing young Maths teachers fully capable even of doing the Maths is questionable. Minister Motshekga and her colleagues have hundreds of thousands of young people, and a country's economy depending on her.
Statement issued by Annette Lovemore MP, DA Shadow Minister of Basic Education, August 7 2014
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