Maths specialists ready to crunch numbers with teachers

03 September 2003
UCT is gearing up to train teachers to meet the needs of a radical overhaul of the education system, which includes the demise of the traditional matric exam and the introduction of mathematical literacy into the school curriculum.

In 2006 the national Department of Education (DoE) will introduce mathematical literacy into the curricula of grades 10 to 12 in the Further Education and Training (FET) band, according to the current timeline for its revised Curriculum 2005. All learners who opt not to study traditional maths, will be obliged to take this new subject.

The new system makes schooling compulsory until the end of the General Education and Training (GET) phase [grade 9], when learners write exams for the General Education and Training Certificate (GETC), the education system's first exit point. Those who successfully complete the GET stage can then enter the FET band. At the end of grade 12, learners will sit for the Further Education and Training Certificate (FETC), which replaces the matric certificate. The first FETCs will be awarded at the end of 2008, if the rollout goes as planned.

Much of the parley and polemic over the outcomes-based Curriculum 2005 and the GET and FET bands have been around the new programme in mathematical literacy. The subject, according to Dr Rüdiger Laugksch of the School of Education, is designed as riposte to piqued learners who grumble that it is unlikely that they will ever use parabolas and cosines outside the confines of their drowsy maths classrooms.

"Mathematical literacy is a form of mathematics that very much relates content to concrete, everyday experiences," explained Laugksch. "The thinking behind the subject is to show learners that mathematics has a practical value, and that you need to understand mathematics because it's involved in all kinds everyday activities."

According to the National Curriculum Statement (Grades 10 to 12) issued by the Department of Education, the course is intended to show learners how to use mathematics to, among other things, "investigate and monitor the financial aspects of personal, business and national issues". Over its three years (grades 10 to 12), the subject will touch on everything from household budgets and stokvels to taxation and remuneration in the workplace.

Groups such as the Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa (AMESA) and the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (SADTU), however, have said the new subject will merely compound the current shortage of mathematics teachers.

In a 2002 Mail & Guardian article, SADTU estimated that as many as 6 800 maths teachers - nearly double the number already in the system - would be needed to teach maths and mathematical literacy.

In response, UCT's Schools Development Unit (SDU) in the School of Education has been tailoring training programmes in this and other new FET subjects (usually adaptations of current school subjects) for teachers.

At the beginning of next year, the unit will launch its Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE) in Mathematical Literacy (academic supevision for this and other ACE streams offered through the School of Education falls under Laugksch's jurisdiction). In addition, it will run two new ACE (pronounced "ace" rather than "A-C-E") streams in mathematics and science.

While for some time now the unit has presented programmes in the latter two subjects and others in its ACE stable, next year will be the first time that these ACE streams will be offered at the FET level. Previously, it ran only mathematics and science streams at the GET band, based, of course, on the DoE's Curriculum 2005.

(Following a review of Curriculum 2005, a revised GET curriculum will be rolled out in 2004.)

At present, little more than half of all learners in South Africa enrol for mathematics, according to the School of Education in its draft proposal for the ACE programme. About 80% of these learners take the subject on standard grade (standard and higher grades will be phased out by the DoE).

To prepare those who will be teaching the subject in South African classrooms, the SDU and the School of Education have put together a two-year, part-time ACE stream in mathematical literacy, recently approved by the UCT Council.

The programme is made up of five modules covering teaching and learning numbers, teaching and learning algebra, teaching and learning shape, space and measurement, teaching and learning data handling, and understanding the mathematics or mathematical literacy curriculum in practice.

According to the SDU's Siyalo "Ish" Qanya, who oversees the ACE maths and science streams, it is anticipated that both current math teachers as well as those from other disciplines - with scant mathematical training or qualifications - will sign up for the new programme.

"In our ACE courses in maths and science, teachers come in with very little or no mathematical or science background," he observed. "What we then do is teach them everything, from the basics up to the point where they can engage with the subject's real content."

The ACE programmes are specifically designed not only to boost teachers' "content knowledge", but also to beef up their teaching craft in general, added Laugksch.

And while learners will be the primary beneficiaries of the new subject - "if it's a matter of mathematical literacy or no maths at all, then mathematical literacy is a wonderful initiative" - teachers have plenty to gain from the UCT programme, said Laugksch. For some, he noted, the ACE could very well lead to further university studies.

"The beauty of the ACE is that it represents a wonderful opportunity for college-trained teachers to get into university and have a university-pathway opened up for them," he said.

Most of the teachers registering for the maths literacy stream and its equals elsewhere will be nominated and funded by the provincial departments of education. Teachers not bankrolled or chosen by the departments can, however, sign up for this and other streams as well, and the School of Education is working hard to procure bursaries and other incentives for them.

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