header maths

Policy Papers and Research

"Half of all South African pupils who attended school for five years can’t do basic calculations. This is according to a 2015 TIMMS report on mathematics achievements among Grade 5 learners in South Africa.
At the same time, it’s calculated that 10% of the country’s teachers are absent from school each day, while researchfound that 79% of South African Grade 6 mathematics teachers were classified as having content knowledge levels below the level at which they were teaching."

Read more: Understanding the teaching crisis facing South Africa

"The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is an assessment of the mathematics and science knowledge of fourth and eighth grade students around the world. TIMSS was developed by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) to allow participating nations to compare students’ educational achievement across borders."


Read more: TIMSS Report 2015 - Highlights of Mathematics and Science Achievement of Grade 9 South African...

"There is consensus in the international mathematics teacher education literature that teachers should, at the most basic level, have mastery of the content knowledge they are required to teach. In this paper we test this assumption empirically by analyzing the South African SACMEQ 2007 mathematics teacher test data which tested 401 grade 6 mathematics teachers from a nationally representative sample of primary schools. With items matched to curriculum grade bands, findings indicate that 79% of grade 6 mathematics teachers showed content knowledge levels below the grade 6/7 band, and that the few teachers with higher-level content knowledge are highly inequitably distributed."

Read more: What do we know about primary teachers’ mathematical content knowledge in South Africa? An...

"This study quantifies a year’s worth of mathematics learning in South Africa (0.3 standard deviations) and uses this measure to develop empirically calibrated learning trajectories. Two main findings are (1) only the top 16% of South African Grade 3 children are performing at an appropriate Grade 3 level. (2) The learning gap between the poorest 60% of students and the wealthiest 20% of students is approximately three Grade-levels in Grade 3, growing to four Grade-levels by Grade 9. The paper concludes by arguing that the later in life we attempt to repair early learning deficits in mathematics, the costlier the remediation becomes."


Read more: Starting behind and staying behind in South Africa: The case of insurmountable learning deficits...

The Training and Teaching of mathematics is matter of teacher subject knowledge and pedagogy.  But its implementation in the school context is a matter of organisation and authority.

For an intervention to improve the quality of mathematics in a school to succeed, it is essential that the project design include both these dimensions:  the Mathematics teacher and the wider school organisational context.

This article provides examples of the dynamics and planning required of a typical school intervention programme to gain traction.

Read more: Mathematics Teaching Project - Factors Influencing Success

There is no doubt that education is a vitally important aspect of every young South African’s future. There is equally no doubt that the current education system is facing many challenges and is struggling to produce school leavers of the calibre required in industry, most notably when it comes to the subject of mathematics. The Improving Maths Performance Debate, held in Johannesburg in 2015, brought some of South Africa’s brightest minds together to consider solutions to this recurrent challenge.


Read more: Tackling the challenges of improving South African learners’ maths results

“South Africa is significantly underperforming in education, particularly mathematics teaching and learning. Mathematics teaching is often poor quality, with teachers not able to answer questions in the curriculum they are teaching, one indicator of the challenge. Often national testing is misleading as it does not show the major gap at lower grade levels. Of the full complement of pupils who start school, only 50 per cent will make it to Grade 12 and only 12 per cent will qualify for university entrance. Fundamental reforms are needed in the public sector. Business leaders need to incorporate an understanding of private education and other market experiments and schooling innovations in their overall perspective and priorities for intervention and reform.“


Read more: Mathematics outcomes in South African schools: What are the facts? What should be done?

“The Zenex Foundation initiated a metaevaluation of 23 of its mathematics, science and language projects in South African schools between 1998 and 2006. This forms part of its commitment to project evaluation and research as a way of strengthening its impact. The aim of each project has been to improve the quality of teaching and learning, and to achieve positive change in schools. The projects have achieved varying levels of success, but more importantly, the evaluations have provided invaluable information on critical success factors and the dynamics of school development. The lessons documented by the meta-evaluation have informed the development of the Zenex Foundation’s strategy for the next ten years.”

Read more: Zenex Foundation: Educating for impact in mathematics, science and language - A ten year review

“This evaluation report examines the effectiveness of the Inkanyezi Project, a Zenex Foundation funded initiative that enabled selected Black learners to attend public schools with a history of providing quality Mathematics and Science education.

Conducted by Quality Projects in Education and Schaffer & Associates from 2009 to 2016, the evaluation investigated, inter alia, whether the performance of the participating learners improved in Mathematics and Science, and what lessons could be learned in terms of expanding the project to more schools, and advancing Mathematics and Science teaching and learning in schools. The report contains a number of findings around mentorship, learner selection, project management and other elements of the project.” 

Read more: Evaluation of Inkanyezi Learners in Public Schools Programme: Summary of Key Finding

“The evaluation was of a bridging programme offered to learners from previously disadvantaged backgrounds who wanted to improve the quality of their Grade 12 Mathematics and Science results. The bridging programme was presented through a College funded by a JSE-listed technology and engineering company.”

Read more: Summary of the evaluation of a bridging programme to improve the quality of Grade 12 Mathematics...

“This research into the factors that contribute to quality Mathematics and Science teaching in public schools, was funded by the Zenex Foundation and conducted by the Centre for Development and Enterprise.

The study, which was concluded at the end of 2013, focused on second tier schools that perform just below the top producers of Mathematics and Science learners but above the national average. The research examined the relationship between school performance in Mathematics and factors such as teacher to learner ratios, teacher qualifications and experience, and teacher competence.”


Read more: Research Report: Expanding the pool of quality Mathematics and Science passes in public schools