Alum helping learners excel in mathematics

12 June 2020 | Story Carla Bernardo. Photos Tabitha Mee and Madeleine Bazil. Voice Sarin Drew. Read time 5 min.
Many UCT alumni are part of the Numeric team, including at the helm.
Many UCT alumni are part of the Numeric team, including at the helm.
 

An organisation led by alumni from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and involving current UCT students is helping primary school learners across the country excel in mathematics while also training and equipping teachers – and they’re continuing to do so even during the nationwide lockdown.

Numeric was founded in 2011 by UCT alumnus Andrew Einhorn, who graduated from the university in 2013 with an MSc in Immunology. Einhorn started Numeric with the hope of providing high-quality mathematics instruction to learners in low-income areas, thereby increasing the number of learners who will go on to succeed in high school mathematics and beyond.

Today, Numeric partners with 45 primary schools in low-income areas in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Since their work began, the Numeric team has worked with over 11 500 learners.

 

“We are deliberate in our efforts to connect with parents and we believe this has made a huge difference in the past few months as we’ve launched our distance learning approach.”

To participate in the programme, a nominal annual fee is required for each learner, which can be paid in instalments. Financial aid is also available.

“We find that the small fee makes learners more accountable for participating, improves parent buy-in and helps us offset some of the costs associated with the programme,” said Kristen Thompson, Numeric’s chief executive officer.

Like Einhorn, Thompson is a UCT graduate. Fellow UCT alumni who join her on Numeric’s management team are Luvuyo Notshokovu, the chief programme manager in Durban, and operations manager, Honjiswa Raba.

Nothando Makhetha and Funelakhe Duze, who are also UCT alumni, are programme managers in Numeric’s Cape Town office, supporting partnerships with schools in Khayelitsha. Twelve current UCT students are participating in Numeric’s year-long teaching internship programme and an additional four UCT students are involved in their distance learning project, which is the organisation’s response to the nationwide lockdown.

Distance learning

Before the lockdown that began in March 2020, learners would attend two after-school classes at local primary schools every week. These programmes are staffed by coaches who are training to become teachers.

Numeric partners with 45 primary schools in low-income areas in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

While the lockdown has presented challenges, such as uncertainty around the reopening of schools and when academic enrichment programmes will be permitted to return, the Numeric team has responded with innovation. To continue their work, Numeric has implemented a distance learning project.

“[This] allows us to connect with a majority of our learners and keep them engaged in additional maths support during lockdown and until we are able to reconnect with them in person,” said Thompson.

 

“We are able to continue developing the next generation of future teachers through this project.”

Through this new way of teaching, Numeric reaches over 1 550 of its learners using low-data technology: SMS, WhatsApp and Facebook. Learners are connected with a coach and receive video lessons in English and/or isiZulu. They practise exercises, maths games and riddles and have consultations twice a week. The resources are available on the Numeric website.

While keeping learners engaged, the project also provides opportunities for new teaching experiences.

“We are able to continue developing the next generation of future teachers through this project, developing their digital teaching skills and keeping them engaged in addressing real challenges faced by educators and the education system as a whole during this time,” said Thompson.

Staying connected

One of the keys to Numeric’s success with their distance learning approach is the support and engagement they receive from parents. According to Thompson, this is thanks to the investment the organisation has made in building relationships with learners’ families.

“We are deliberate in our efforts to connect with parents and we believe this has made a huge difference in the past few months as we’ve launched our distance learning approach,” she said.

Before the lockdown, learners would attend two after-school classes at local primary schools every week.

Feedback from parents has been positive with many thanking Numeric and the coaches for keeping children’s “minds busy during this lockdown period”, providing parents with “methods of teaching their children” and for “keeping our kids’ minds so active”.

“We plan to continue supporting and directly connecting with the families and communities we serve,” said Thompson.

As for Numeric’s plan for the foreseeable future, they’ll continue the distance learning approach until it is safe for the team to return to schools. They are also exploring ways to share resources through schools to keep learners engaged, particularly those who are not able to connect with Numeric digitally.

“Our team has been incredibly innovative and resourceful,” said Thompson. “We hope to learn from this experience and possibly implement some of what we’re learning now in future to continue enhancing our offering.”


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