"Not your ordinary maths class..."

South African maths education is in a state of crisis, with performance outcomes that place South African learners at the bottom of international comparisons of mathematics competence. At the same time, mathematics competence is an essential requisite for many areas of well-paid employment in key sectors of the South African development economy. In light of these realities, the USP places significant emphasis on supporting the teaching and learning of mathematics in our partner schools. Our maths programming includes:

Friday Matric Maths

Matric learners from all five of our partner schools are invited at the beginning of each year to join a special maths support programme held on Friday afternoons each week at the Wiggins/Umkhumbane Library. In keeping with our mission of fostering learner agency and replacing rote learning with active skills development, learners are placed in collaborative groups to work through maths problems together. Brief lectures are provided by our lead maths educator, Mr Nkosinathi Masondo, but primary emphasis is placed on giving the learners an opportunity to engage with the material in an active way, assisted by a trained, dedicated team of university students who serve as our Maths Mentors.

Weekly attendance ranges from 40 – 80 learners each week throughout the school year.

Saturday Grade 11 Maths

Following the same format as the Friday Matric Maths programme, our Saturday Maths brings together 80-90 Grade 11 learners from among our five schools to work in groups, using a curriculum of maths exercises designed and coordinated by Mr Masondo and guided by our team of Maths Mentors. This crowd of maths learners is a lively and energetic group of young people all devoted to a vision of becoming better maths learners.

Weekly attendance ranges from 40-80 learners throughout the school year.

Grade 8 Maths Teaching Centre Pilot Programme

Poor maths performance in our five schools -- mirroring the crisis in schools across South Africa -- is already the norm from the time learners come through our schools’ doors. Typical pass rates for Grade 8 maths in our schools hover at about 6%. The majority of the 94% who fail will be “progressed” to Grade 9, further compounding their lack of foundational knowledge the higher they go in mathematics.
During Terms Three and Four of the 2018 school year, the USP has piloted a new initiative at one of our five schools, Bonela Secondary, aimed at improving Grade 8 outcomes. In a classroom dedicated to this project by the school, we have created a Grade 8 Maths Centre at Bonela, refurbishing the space with newly rebuilt tables, new chairs, fresh paint, and an array of teaching aids. As an example of our ERGO model of NGO-schools partnership, the USP is supporting a full teacher’s salary to place a highly-qualified, creative maths educator at the helm of the USP Maths Centre. We are very fortunate to have Mrs Linda Boshoff, a dynamic, inventive educator with many years of teaching experience in both South Africa and Belgium, serving in this role.

Working closely with the two classroom teachers who currently teach the four sections of Grade 8 maths at Bonela, we have devised a schedule which assigns half of each section to spend one classroom period per week learning in the Maths Centre with Mrs Boshoff. This not only gives the learners a chance to spend time developing a foundational understanding of the concepts which underpin the classroom syllabus, but also cuts the class size in half for the regular classroom teacher during each period when learners go to the Centre. Our aim is not simply to raise pass rates, but rather to enhance learners’ understanding and active application of maths concepts, to develop their problem-solving skills, and to foster their confidence and positive attitudes towards the study of maths. Through consistent monitoring and evaluation efforts, we are measuring and adjusting as we go along, to ensure that this exciting project can achieve its full potential.

Thanks to the generous support of the Victor Daitz Foundation, our Grade 8 Maths Centre initiative is fully funded for the 2019 school year. Our long-term goal is to be able to install a Maths Centre in each of our five schools, replicate the Grade 8 satellite teaching model in each school, and to utilize these exciting new learning spaces to host teacher trainings and other activities for our community of schools and others.