/ 22 March 2012

Nurturing maths talent

Nurturing Maths Talent

After she wrote Matric in 2006, Cordelia Nkosi could have been among the growing number of youths who face an uncertain future.

Like many parents, Nkosi’s could not afford to finance her post-matric education. But instead of ­sitting idle, she used her “gap year” to teach at Bridgeman Development Centre in Zola, Soweto, helping pupils with a range of skills to cope with their school work and life in general.

While teaching there she heard of the maths and English initiative of the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa that was to change her life for the better.

The programme is donor funded and has two components. One focuses on trainee teachers through a teacher learnership programme, the other targets black pupils from poor backgrounds who obtained ­university entrance passes in English and mathematics.

Ros Jaff, the programme manager, says the teacher learnership programme aims at developing a pool of competent black teachers, particularly from the ranks of talented youths who would not have been able to pursue teaching as a career.

She says most member schools in the association are well resourced and it was felt they should make their resources available to train teachers from poor backgrounds.

The selection process
A rigorous selection process helps identify promising interns and the successful ones are placed at one of the association’s member schools. In the course of the internship, trainee teachers have to study either towards a degree in education or a postgraduate certificate and have to “meet stringent requirements in maths and ­science” to ensure they “acquire a high level of subject knowledge”. Unisa is a partner academic institution and helps interns to choose and plan their modules. It also provides regular academic support.

Each intern is assigned a mentor who is able to offer “professional, social and emotional ­guidance and support” during the training. To date, the programme has produced seven qualified black maths teachers and this year 11 interns have been accepted. These interns are sponsored by member schools to “enable them to improve their staff diversity by appointing black maths teachers”.

The programme is working
The Teacher spoke to Nkosi, who at the age of 23, is among the youngest in the teaching fraternity. She has just completed her four-year course with Unisa and has been placed at St Andrews School for Girls in Bedfordview, Ekurhuleni, where she teaches maths to grade eight and mathematical literacy to grade 11 pupils. She is now a member of the school’s full-time staff.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my internship because I had a very supportive mentor. The environment was also awesome. Just about everybody at school was incredibly supportive,” said Nkosi. On her first day, though, she was intimidated when she observed highly experienced teachers going about their work.

Nkosi said the programme was carefully structured. “For instance, in the first year the focus was more on us observing classroom teaching practice. The second year was more on co-teaching with our mentors and in the third year we taught on our own. It was well balanced and there was no pressure put on us.”

Teaching maths is fun
Her counterpart, Sihle Mtshali, placed at Michaelhouse College in KwaZulu-Natal, was also upbeat. “At first I was very nervous, but my colleagues in the maths department were very welcoming and made me feel at home. I have learned to work as part of a team and have also grown in my subject, maths,” said Mtshali, who joined the programme in 2008.

Born in Nquthu in northern KwaZulu-Natal, he completed his matric at Phumulani High School and proceeded to the University of Pretoria to study for a degree in maths.

Mtshali, who intends to teach on a full-time basis at Michaelhouse, said he was part of a maths community partnership programme tutoring maths to neighbouring schools such as Nottingham Road Combined, Dabulamanzi in Rosetta, Onverwagt in Mooi River, Jabula Secondary and Asithuthuke.

As a result, pupils from Nottingham Road Combined School achieved a 100% pass rate in 2010, up from 52% in 2009, he said.