Mrs. Nyundu Ngomane has 68 learners in her Grade 4 Mathematics class at Somcuba Primary School. Overcrowding, classroom control and ill-discipline are the main issues that demotivate and prevent her from effectively teaching a subject she once loved. In February 2016, Penreach administered diagnostic tests for Grades 3, 4, 6, 8 and 9 in the 5 target primary schools. The purpose of these assessments was to inform Penreach’s Mathematics intervention strategy and tailor it to the needs of each school. More than 50% of the learners assessed scored 0%. It was clear that the majority of learners were at least two grades behind in their knowledge of basic Mathematics concepts, putting into context Mrs. Ngomane’s frustrations.
The diagnostic tests found that learners had huge content gaps and lack basic understanding of Mathematics concepts. This led to them developing a negative attitude towards the subject which hindered them from even attempting to answer simple questions. Learners had zero ability to do problem solving questions. One of the major challenges identified was that teachers were not confident in teaching certain Mathematical concepts like probability and geometry as a result of inadequate pedagogical content knowledge.
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In addition to the ongoing in-service teacher training programme through Saturday workshops, Penreach this year introduced the Simplify Seminar Series for Maths and Science Educators. The purpose of these seminars is to empower Maths and Science Educators with practical learner-centred approaches and strategies for teaching problematic Maths and Science concepts. These seminars are facilitated by experienced expert facilitators and also serve to motivate the educators. In these seminars, educators are also taught how to use aids and resources in the classroom as opposed to the traditional chalk and talk approach. Penreach Field Advisors also hold demonstration lessons and team teaching sessions to transfer skills to the educators.
Whilst it is still too early to claim any success, it is worthwhile to note the impact these interventions have had. The mid-year assessment conducted by Penreach has shown an improvement of between 5% and 20% in both Maths and Science across the board. No learners scored 0% and the number of learners with a Level 1 performance has been reduced by half. Whilst these baby steps are encouraging, more still needs to be done improve the quality of passes. There is a discernible improvement in learners and educator attitude although it is still not at the desired level. It’s however extremely encouraging to note that educators are now approaching Penreach Field Advisors for help with lessons preparations for difficult Maths and Science concepts. Mrs. Ngomane’s class may still be big, but leaners are now more engaged and therefore more disciplined, thanks to her use of teaching aids and other resources. Whilst challenges still persist, one thing is clear, she has rediscovered her love for teaching Mathematics.