Younger is better in maths classes, study of teachers finds

2014-12-08 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The younger the better in maths class. The teachers, that is.

Research by a PhD student at the University of Stellenbosh has found that pupils taught by younger teachers do better at maths.

“The research shows that pupils in Grade 6 get better marks if the teacher is between 19 and 29 years old,” said Paula Armstrong, who is currently working as an economist for the firm Econex in Stellenbosch.

Her study analysed data from the 2007 investigation by the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for the Monitoring of Education Quality (SacMeq) to determine what characteristics of teachers influenced the maths results of their pupils.

More than 9 000 Grade 6 pupils in 392 schools and 498 maths teachers were interviewed for the SacMeq study.

Aside from the finding about age, the study also found:

• Training: Pupils get better marks if taught by university-educated teachers.

• Tests: In competence tests, younger teachers (19 to 29 years) did better than their older counterparts.

 • Sex: It had no influence on pupils’ marks if they were taught by a man or a woman.

Armstrong ascribes the better results achieved by younger teachers to the training they have received.

Up to 80% of teachers have been trained at universities after teacher training colleges were abolished in 2000.

“It appears that those who studied at universities were better trained than those who studied at the former training colleges,” she said.

“But more research is necessary to determine precisely what is going on in classrooms. It may be that younger teachers simply have more rapport with 12-year-olds.”

The Western Cape’s best maths teacher, Mariana Viljoen (50), feels that she was also best between the ages of 19 and 29.

She was recently honoured by the province’s Education Department for her work at Hermanus High School.

“In those years, I could make lessons so much fun, because I could still identify with the children. I was also unmarried and had no children, so I could spend a lot of time after school on extra preparation,” she said.

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