'It's not a difficult subject': Teachers say we need to reframe how maths is perceived in SA

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"We need teachers who notice their learners. Wrong answers tell you what they are understanding and what they are not". (Getty Images)
"We need teachers who notice their learners. Wrong answers tell you what they are understanding and what they are not". (Getty Images)

South Africa has seen a constant decline in Grade 12 learners writing and passing Mathematics over the last few years, particularly in rural and disadvantaged areas. 

This need not be so, said speakers at the Kagiso Trust Mathematics Symposium, held both physically and virtually at the University of Limpopo in May. 

The symposium saw educators, mathematics professors, and other stakeholders gather to discuss how to assist learners in embracing mathematics as part of their school curriculum and as an essential part of their lives in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

Also see: How to help your child overcome their fear of maths

'I get the learners to write their choices for their careers' 

"As teachers and parents, we have this stigma of saying this subject is difficult, which is not the case," said Dr Khangelani Sibiya, who was named the 2019 Global Teacher of the year.

He uses creative strategies to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics, bringing in the elements of song, physical demonstration, sport and, perhaps most importantly, career guidance to help learners embrace the subject.

"What I do when I teach is I get the learners to write their choices for their careers. I allow them to go up to three choices, and then we discuss requirements. If one wants to be a doctor, we must discuss on the first day what levels in what subjects you need to do that. If you want to be a doctor, you need an A in mathematics. This assists them when they are studying so they know what they must achieve to realise their goals," said Sibiya.

He works mathematical principles into popular songs and shows learners that subject is a part of everything they do, from how they stand to how they communicate. He uses fashionable youth hand greetings to show them the concepts of parallel and perpendicular. 

"I relate my teaching to soccer. The sign for Mamelodi Sundowns, for example, is a seven. What angle is there? 90 degrees. From that, I can apply Pythagoras theory. The sign of Orlando Pirates is crossed arms. There is mathematics there," said Sibiya.

Also see: 'Visual understanding is absolutely everything': Local experts share matric maths hacks

'We need teachers who notice their learners' 

Dr Kabelo Chuene, the Professor of Mathematics at the University of Limpopo, said there was a gap between teachers teaching and learners learning. 

Teaching is not about performance and results but understanding and having the skills to ensure learners are actually learning, she urged, adding that curricula must be revised. 

"We need teachers who notice their learners. Wrong answers tell you what they are understanding and what they are not," she said. 

Dr Mercy Kazima, professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Malawi, noted the importance of the language of instruction, particularly in a country such as South Africa with 11 official languages. 

Describing it as a hurdle, Kazima advised that we "Use language as a resource to promote learning by code-switching, using [multiple] languages. Talk to children in their language. Encouraging learners to discuss and ask questions in their mother tongue instead of [just] English."

Daniel Gouws, the top-performing Grade 12 pupil in mathematics in 2020, said that his teachers and mentors helped him during a year disrupted by the pandemic. 

"Good teachers, who encouraged my curiosity and motivation, their passion fuelled my passion," said Gouws. 

His advice to learners regarding mathematics: "Understand the fundamental principles; they are the building blocks. Paying attention in class is easier than struggling through textbooks on your own. Lessons give you an audio and visual presentation, and you can ask questions. Try and understand how the method works, rather than memorising it." 

Submitted to Parent24 by the Kagiso Trust Mathematics Symposium. 

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