Why can’t South African children count?

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009 | ICT in Africa

I can’t accept the fact that children in South Africa are not able to count.  Yet, studies show that numeracy skills of our children are of the lowest in the world.

Why is it that some of our schools produce learners with excellent mathematical abilities, while neighbouring schools – drawing learners from the same communities – yield dismal results?

Why is it that some well-resources schools fare badly in equipping learners with numeracy skills, whereas some poorly resourced schools are doing so well?

Does the fault lie with the learners?  No!  Never doubt the talent of our children!

Is a lack of resources the problem?  No!  Many schools are performing miracles with the little that is available.  You don’t need fancy equipment to teach learners to count and to remember their multiplication tables.

The education system – officials and teachers – must take responsibility for the fact that our kids can’t tally.

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13 Comments to Why can’t South African children count?

Mark C
Saturday, 3 October, 2009

I would disagree with you.
(1) Not every can do maths as much as what we like to. I would like to make you, Kobus van Wyk, a professional rugby player. But I bet I can’t. My own child battles with maths even though he has resources at his disposal (CAMI, Khanya LTSM, Kumon, BOOST maths).
(2) Learner attitudes towards maths is major problem. Currently I tutor Physics and these learners will not get past a certain percentage because they only spend the time I have with them on Physics. Despite getting additional thinking skills they still don’t use it. Give learners homework and they don’t just do it. Parents are spending thousands of rands on additional tuition that don’t work because their children just don’t work.
(3) Teach mathematics to a class of 45 learners and check the misconceptions they have. As a teacher you can’t deal with all of them. As a former maths teacher I am ashamed to say that in a class of 45 learners I got 15% pass rate. As a Physics teacher about 75 – 100%. My assumption was that I was just a bad maths teacher. A friend of mine who has been teaching for more than 20 years could not get a pass rate of more than 50% in his classes despite the amount of effort put in. Normal periods, intervals, after school, night school? Maybe he should have given up, but he’s still there.
(4) Maths teaching is a problem. There is an assumption that people make that if you can do maths you can teach. Not true! Maths teaching and maths knowledge are two different things. That is a problem in primary schools. If you want a maths teacher, the motivation to teach maths must be there. Also I find that too many teachers do not read more widely (or wider than what is in a textbook). Teachers never engage in educational research to see what it says. I do believe that to teach senior grades mathematics you need a well qualified person who took maths for at least two years and these person need some type of screening to see whether they can teach what they know. The other thing is practice, practice, practice. (5) Learners must be engaged in doing maths. It is not a spectator sport. (6) CAs……….aaaargh…..a group of people that I just greet, smile and I don’t want to say more.
(7) Sitting with many educators teaching maths- the structures in which they work are too stifling. There is no place for creativity, innovation and the relation of personal experience to teaching. It has become a clinical job with no feeling and love to it. The admin and overbearing nature of education officials with all their airy-fairy solutions and no action killed that one. We in Khanya are doing the same thing.
(8) Nobody listens to teachers/facilitators. Ego problem with those in power. Too much of a top-down approach. We say, you just do without questions. If you don’t we will charge you according to the law because you are not following policy. If you do have a question, take it up with your union. Is this a soltuion to a valid problem, particularly in maths? When listing a problem, CA’s say but that is what National says. Who is national? Who are those people. Is it a body, a person……….God?
(8) There are too many initiatives doing their own thing eg. SDU at UCT, maths outreach at UWC, IMSTUS at Stellenbosch, CA’s, Khanya, Dinaledi, etc, etc. How about having all these structures but one common vision, purpose and drive to lick this problem? One major structure driving everything without proper intensive support.
(9) Can we take those teachers in successful schools and put them in the non-successful schools and see whether they can make a difference?
(10) Why do departmental officials pass learners en masse when the pass-rate in grade 9 at schools are low (e.g. 10 % pass-rate just because 90% of them fail maths). There are no further support for these learners except that the poor grade 10 educator is expected to do miracles. Maybe an answer?

Maths and science are both easy. You can figure it out. They are a set of rules to apply to situations. It is maths and science education that’s the problem. There will be those who will totally disagree with me and that’s fine. The issue is…why are the maths and science results still not up to scratch? Don’t only blame the teachers, they are not the only problem, they are part of a bigger problem.

Saturday, 3 October, 2009

I am not a Maths educator – to be precise a Geographer !! But Geography consist of “learning sections ” and also some mathatical calculations that need to be done (mapwork).

So what I would like to add about the Maths issue is….. when I was a school, my homework diary had the tables on the backpage … and we got drilled in Primary school to know it from top to bottom and bottom to top….

So ? The point is that we need to start with the “little” maths and build on that to Grade 12 together with all the Mathematical “content rules” – know them by heart.

Albie 5 x 2 = 10

Saturday, 3 October, 2009

Sorry to be off the subject but I just realized that a friend of mine (actually a board member from Council for Exceptional Children) has a Fulbright grant to lecture at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth for 2009-2010. Are you anywhere near there?

Saturday, 3 October, 2009

Hi Pat … unfortunately not! About 500 miles from there. But if she ever comes to Cape Town during her stay in Port Elizabeth (which is quite likely, since Caoe Tiwb is the best city in the country), please ask her to contact me.

Saturday, 3 October, 2009

Mark, you are raising interesting issues. On one of them I absolutely agree: you will never be able to make a rugby player out of me!
As far as the other points are concercned, are you saying our children are too stupid to numerate? I don’t think so! The issues that you list all point to flaws in the education system … and that is exactly my point!

Mark C
Saturday, 3 October, 2009

No I don’t. I just think that the level at which they are expected to work is not reasonable.
The amount of effort we have to put in is just too much eg. my own child. He goes to a school which purports to be better than other schools. In order for him to get 50 % in any test his teacher with a helper teaches him during school hours. In addition he goes to Kumon twice a week which costs R300 a month and that is beside the fact that we sit with him with homework everyday. That is beside the fact that we had him tested and that both his parents taught maths. The only problem I can see is that he is not motivated to do maths or maybe he just can’t do it(called dyscalculia). I would say the biggest hurdle we face is attitudes people have towards mathematics. The same goes for science. If people hear a person is doing Physics..its (too) difficult. Problem? Attitude already.
By the way I can’t program in any language. I’ve been trying it for about 15 years with no success. I wonder what this is called? Anybody up to teaching me? This is one of my lifelong goals.

Kathy McCabe
Saturday, 3 October, 2009

I think the problem begins in the Foundation Phase (FP). When I was training to become a teacher I learnt that there are 3 stages or levels of teaching maths to young children – enactive, iconic and symbolic. At the first level children work with actual things – counting blocks or bottle-tops etc; at the second level they move on to using pictures of items on the printed page; and finally they transfer to using numeric symbols (numbers).

I have been struck by the fact that many FP teachers I encounter in W.Cape schools seem to skip the crucial first stage. If, for example, a child never lines up buttons into rows in order to understand multiplication as repeated addition, then they end up just learning the ‘trick’ of doing a multiplication sum without understanding what they are doing. This spells death to future mathematics understanding!

Tuesday, 20 October, 2009

Our classes are too big! The educators cannot cope with the numbers that causes disciplinary problems – most of their energy is wasted on that.

To top it all, the concrete basis is not there anymore. The counting of objects, the MS-Kit (still locked up in the strong rooms)and the lack of space to sit on the floor and touch the concrete stuff.

Our children are not stupid, our educators can’t be blamed, so who is next in line?

Mark C
Sunday, 8 November, 2009

One of the issues is that children forgot how to play with the objects around them. What is today called “indigenous games” are no longer played e.g. drie-blikkies, kennetjie, agoes(i don’t know the correct spelling). These were all games that required various skills such as estimation, grouping, counting and on top of it children got exercise. The reward at the end of each game? Your team won!
The other issue was that the education department took away handwork/woodwork which is an excellent subject for visualization skills. There were drawing skills such as doing borders, isometric drawings and geometric drawings. (I was god at the theory and drawings but vrot at making stuff). This is important for Geometry..oops they put that in paper 3.
In my rantings and ravings I am not saying that most of our learners cannot do maths. What I am saying is that attitudes towards maths are poor and look at the conditions in which maths is taught. It is a complex issue.
Recently schools wrote the exam given by the department. What surprised me was the following. My son in grade 6, who does not do well at maths, got 66% and 50% of his class “failed”. On top of it, he would have been the top learner in my wife’s class if he went to to school there. Her top learner got 56% and 70% “failed”. Maths is my wife’s favourite subject to teach and she puts much effort into it. My son’s teacher is a never-mind person with an aid to assist her with 41 children. I wonder if these performances were related pay whether my son’s teacher would have gotten an increase in comparison to my wife?
The other issue that needs to be looked at is…is maths a good predictor of success in a person’s life? Is there too much emphasis on maths at the expense of other learning areas that may be important too and which people are good at?

mbt shoes
Monday, 22 March, 2010

i have checked it’s really great

Friday, 3 June, 2011

i teach mathematics at a disadvantaged school in the wcape and i am the only teacher at my school who can get a above 75% pass rate in mathematics. the teacher student ratio in my classes is on average 1:49. learners are hungry in class and they do not have text books at our school.how do i do it?(a)i do not talk about my personal life (b) Within two days of the new year i know all the learners names (c) i check their last year results (d) i teach basics while i teach new work. (d) i smile and discipline with dissappointment rather than anger. Kids seem to listen to me because i am always ready to admit when i dont know something. i never ever ridicule my learners and even go so far as to buy food and clothing out of my pocket for these learners.(any sponsorship will be appreciated) everyone can do mathematics that is how i teach. my biggest barrier is lack of parent help. kids not coming to school regularly.

Tuesday, 14 February, 2012

I never got a mark above 50% at school for maths. I hatyed it and ran away fromm anything mathemetical even as an adult. My ten yr old, grd 5 child is the same. My aattitude has changed and am trying to project a positive attitude towards maths on my child. She goes to Kumon, but there is no improvement. I m considering moving her to master maths, but want to try on my own at home before i do that. Any suggestions of tools including computer games to help us

Kobus van Wyk
Tuesday, 14 February, 2012

Thanks for your comment/enquiry on my blog. Mastermaths is certainly a good option, but if you want to start at home, it is an even better option (I assume you have a compute facility that your child can use at home). The CAMI home product has worked well for many children, giving them the necessary guidance, as well as practice required, to improve their maths results. The beauty of this product is that it can take your child form any level of mathematical understanding and build up to where the child should be. For example, your child is in Grade 5, but she may only be operating on a grade 3 level in maths. CAMI will then take her from Grade 3, build her skills progressively, until she is on the level where she should be, and beyond.

If you are interested, please let me know in which area you are and I can give you the details of how you can contact your nearest CAMI person.

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