There is no escape from the fact that Mathematics is a problem subject area for South African learners. While many schools across the country have reported good matric pass levels, the national press has been quick to report that mathematics pass grades are falling – and this is even true in the generally less taxing mathematics literacy subject area. It is even more worrying to note that in many parts of the country this poor performance in mathematics is linked to a lack of ability in the teachers delivering the subject material. This was highlighted in the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Information Technology report, which ranked South Africa’s science and maths education as the worst in the world.
Much has subsequently being written about the report and its perceived shortcomings, but many education experts in South Africa have recognised the need for a better quality of learning experience in the science and maths subject areas. The Centre for Development and Enterprise has specifically addressed the issues around maths education in South Africa in a series of reports that can be downloaded HERE.
We have previously reported how the Science Lab project is bucking the national trend in science education at Ukhanyo School in Masiphumelele. This month sees the start of a similar initiative to improve mathematics teaching. The Maths Lab is a refurbished classroom in Ukhanyo School, where we will be attempting to raise the quality of the learning experience for teachers and learners from Grade 4 onward.
Masicorp is very fortunate to have Scott and Laurie Smith to lead the project. Scott is a qualified engineer and mathematics teacher, who has taught maths from elementary to high school level in the United States. Scott and Laurie arrived in Cape Town six-months ago to establish the Maths Lab and have spent that time designing an open learning space with re-usable teaching aids, which Ukhanyo teachers will have access to for maths classes. They have spent much of their recent time trialing the new teaching aids with Grade 4 learners, who have responded very positively to the increased contact time.
Previously teachers were having to select one pupil at a time to solve problems on a blackboard in front a class of around 40 learners. Now each student will have their own whiteboard, and all learners can work through the same problems together. Scott will be available to guide the teachers in the use of the new materials and to advise them on how to improve the learning experience for their learners. Just as with the Science Lab, the aim is teach the teachers so that the facilty becomes a sustainable resource for the school.
Scott and Laurie have volunteered their time for three years to manage the project, with start-up funds for the new facility being provided by an extremely generous anonymous donor from the United States, as well as Bateleur Capital in South Africa and a few others. We cannot thank them enough for their commitment, and with the first classes due to start at the end of this month we know the teachers and learners at Ukhanyo will also soon be extremely grateful for their work at the school.