Maths and science education in South Africa continues to be a problem area according to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness report. While the methodology used in the report has been questioned it is painful to see the standard of maths education in South Africa ranked at 138 out of 140 countries in the 2015/16 report.
It is therefore encouraging to see the success of the Maths Lab at Ukhanyo Primary School. The lab has now been in full operation for three school terms. In this short time, we have happily watched our “test group” of 250 grade-4 learners and their 4 teachers embrace this new learning environment. In a very short period of time, teachers have seen that children crave a school in which they get to experience daily success with hands-on activities; an environment where the learning is fun. Even better, knowledge retention has increased and behaviour problems have decreased.
After only 12 months of operation, the mid-year tests showed that students had moved from the previous year’s 16% pass rate to a 33% pass rate. At the end of 2015, the end-of-year scores were even higher! In 2014 17% of the 4th grade passed the end-of-year test, while in 2015 52% of the students passed!
The Maths Team would like to expand the Lab next year with tablets and laptops as we are envisioning a “flipped classroom” in which advanced students could move forward in self-paced instruction. This would challenge the advanced students while providing additional motivation for the ones who are struggling. The use of i-pads would provide access to online programs such as the Khan Academy, ensuring that there are literally no limitations on how far a motivated student can advance.
At a time when the news media is bemoaning the state of Maths education in South Africa, we are excited by what we see happening at Ukhanyo. Scores are improving dramatically, and we are seeing first-hand what happens when both teachers and students are exposed to new learning methods and improved teaching resources.