Teachers’ maths problems just don’t add up

Mathematics teachers are battling with simple issues such as calculating percentages, according to a study using the recent Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ III) dataset for South Africa.

“What is evident is that maths performance is not very good in the broader context of what one expects from primary level. Teachers are really struggling with issues such as calculating percentages,” said Professor Servaas van den Berg of Stellenbosch University’s economics department.

“More than half of the teachers thought if the height of a fence is raised from 60cm to 75cm, it was a 15% increase,” he said.

“It also shows that some math teachers have problems with relatively simple maths problems.”

The grade six teachers were given similar tests to that of their pupils to gauge their subject knowledge.


“It is particularly worrying that teachers have gaps in their subject knowledge, but it appears that this does not have a huge effect on how children perform,” he said.

According to the study, the impact of improved teacher knowledge on pupils’ performance was “strikingly small”.

Better subject knowledge did not necessarily translate into better performance. Rather, pupils getting an opportunity to learn or teachers being present in the classroom improved pupil performance.

“It’s even more important to have a well-functioning school,” Van den Berg said.

The government’s newly introduced annual national assessments for grades three, six and nine was a step toward improving the situation.

The SACMEQ III survey provides the research community with new data on primary education in South Africa. – Sapa

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