In an effort to address the poor matric maths marks, the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Education is taking future primary school teachers through a “Maths Intensive” course.

This is a response to the 3.4% points dip in the number of students who passed mathematics from 58% in 2018 to 54.6% in 2019.

Three hundred first-year Bachelor of Education students attended the five-day course last week at the Funde UJabule Teaching School in Soweto. The school, which also has a primary school on-site, is an innovative project from UJ’s Faculty of Education.

This programme, which is funded by the European Union, has its genesis at UJ with collaboration with about 14 universities around the country. Cape Peninsula University of Technology will be starting this week

Convenor for the maths intensive course and Associate Professor in the Centre for Education Practise Research at UJ,  Nicky Roberts says there are serious problems at the end of schooling in terms of mathematics performance.

Robert says, “We all know that the matric results are very poor and every year around this time we wring our hands about what to do and people ask what we are doing? Well, this is something that we are doing to change that, we know that the problems in mathematics start really early when children are very young and that teachers are a key component in the ability of children to love mathematics and to understand it. This course takes students from matrics who are joining the journey into being a teacher.”

She says UJ suspended all normal lectures and activities for the first week of term as students worked through a “Maths Intensive” course where they are supported to work on mathematics in a concentrated and engaging way.

The workshop came after first year and fourth year students scored dismally in the first baseline tests which were written nationally across 26 universities.

‘Our approach to mathematics is early Algebra’

Roberts says maths learners have a challenge with Algebra. ‘Our approach to mathematics is early Algebra, which means we recognise that there is a big problem when students move from working with numbers to working with the dreaded X and Y.”

She says the matric results have been relatively stable however they are not good enough.

Maths literacy in South Africa a ‘national crisis’

Roberts says mathematics learning and teaching in South Africa is known to be a national problem and crisis.

She says, “Well it is a concern, we don’t have enough students taking core mathematics. I think when we compare core mathematics over 20 years we see a different picture though, so remember before you could either take core mathematics or nothing, now you can take core mathematics or mathematics literacy.”

Roberts says she is pleased that the majority of students attending the course at least have had 12 years of schooling in mathematics as before this was not the case.

“We would have some who were specialist in mathematics and others who have stopped mathematics when they were 15, now at least they have all done maths last year.”

She says changes in the curriculum is not the problem.

Robert says language is a huge component, particularly in mathematics.

She says, “ I think it’s very important that children are learning in the language that they bring in the classroom when they are young and so one of the things we had to do in this course is emphasise that teachers need to listen to children, counting in a variety of languages, not expecting it to be a language of teaching and learning in the school.”

One of the 14 tutors , Kiyara Bellochun,  says the course is engaging.

First year student, Lethabo Lukhuleni says the course is helpful.