ABS172 - Changing narratives of success and failure in primary mathematics teaching and learning in South Africa

2.1 Learning and development in onsite communities and online spaces
3:00 PM, Thursday 31 Aug 2017 (20 minutes)
Research continues to point to low levels of attainment in primary mathematics in many South African schools. One contributing factor to the persistence of low standards comes from research evidence of teaching that presents mathematics as a collection of unconnected procedures or facts that learners need to remember rather than make sense of. Alongside this is the evidence of teaching treating mathematical tasks as ‘unscientific’ (in the Vygotskian sense), that is, as tasks that all have to be undertaken ab initio, not building upon learners’ prior knowledge of established facts, nor connect together different aspects of mathematics. In this absence of seeing mathematics as scientific – as a connected network of ideas – there is broad evidence of teaching, and of pupils, tackling mathematical activity through naïve methods, commonly unit counting or tallying in number tasks.
Within this context, the Wits Maths Connect – Primary project (WMC–P) focuses on developing and investigating interventions aimed at improving the teaching and learning of mathematics in ten government primary schools. Underpinning the interventions is a theoretical position of trying to shift the implicit narrative of primary mathematics as a collection of isolated arbitrary rules and procedures that are simply ‘known’ or ‘not known’, to one where the teaching and learning are seen as complementary and united through the narrative of school mathematics as a highly connected scientific discipline. This paper presents the theoretical position underpinning this approach and how the research team is judging whether a shift in teaching is subsequently occurring.

University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg