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Back to Basics in Maths

Math Ages 5 - 10

Back to Basics in Maths - Experts Underscore Reasons for Poor Performances

Experts have warned that pupils will continue to produce disastrous maths and physical science results unless they are taught the basics properly in primary school.

Last year, barely one out of four pupils managed to achieve a 40% pass mark in maths, while only one out of two scraped a 40% pass in science. In maths, only 125075 out of 282699 pupils secured a pass of 30% and above, while 196666 of the 264222 who sat for science achieved 30% and over.

Minister of basic education Angie Motshekga described the results as "a cause for concern" when she announced the matric results in January. Some of the country's maths and science boffins have also described the results as "sadly unsurprising".

Aarnout Brombacher, a maths education consultant who regularly tests grade 3 and 4 pupils, said most could not count beyond 40.

“It's too late crying at the grade 12 level. We need to look much earlier”

"These children can't add two numbers together without having to draw stripes and count the stripes," he said.

According to him, the children had no sense of numbers, because primary school teachers were teaching them to do things without making them understand what they were doing.

"Their mathematical careers are over long before they even reach the intermediate and senior phases, let alone the further education and training phase (grades 10-12)."

He is adamant that there are no "short-term fixes", adding: "The real issue is to start working at primary school level and making changes there. We should stop tinkering with the curriculum and start focusing on the training of teachers."

Dr Vijay Reddy, executive director of the education and skills development research programme at the Human Sciences Research Council, said: "In all our research, we showed that the performance at grade 3, 6 and 9 levels predicts grade 12 performance. If performance at the lower levels is poor, there's no way you can raise it at grade 12."

She said all indicators throughout the education system had showed a "consistency of poor performance".

"It's too late crying at the grade 12 level. We need to look much earlier, which is where investments have to be made."

Reddy said maths teachers needed to have "specialised knowledge" to teach at high school level.

"My concern is the endless number of times teachers are removed from their classes for one or two days to attend courses to upgrade their skills and knowledge. These attempts at short courses to improve maths knowledge are not working."

Professor Marissa Rollnick, chairman of science education at the Marang Centre for Science and Mathematics Education at the University of the Witwatersrand, said one of the challenges facing teachers was knowledge of their subject.

"There needs to be a lot of systemic professional development right across the system in a way that acknowledges the worth of the teacher," she said.

She added that since the implementation of the new curriculum, new topics were introduced which some teachers had not taught before.

"Teachers are struggling with topics such as semi-conductors, electronics, organic chemistry and global warming because they never studied them during their own training."

She said teachers who had trained at teacher training colleges had never been exposed to laboratory work.

These comments come in the wake of a recently released investigation by Professor Charles Simkins on the maths and science performance of public schools, which found that three-quarters of the schools are producing "very few passes" in maths.

The study found that at least 35495 of the pupils who achieved 72% in maths literacy in 2008 could have secured a 50% pass had they written maths.

Simkins, who described this as "the most serious waste", also found that 90% of schools were still failing to meet "minimum performance standards" in maths and science.

SOURCE: Times Live

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