Teaching basic maths in SA—

an insider’s view—echoing several of brianvds’s points.

'Luthon64

So I'm not the only bad, crazy teacher out there... :-)

One of the things that bother me about this constant talk of upgrading teachers' skills and training is this: among the more successful teachers achieve what they do precisely because they have learned to ignore their "training" (or received no "training" in the first place), and the syllabus along with it. I achieved at least mild success at getting math into some primary school heads by throwing out the textbook in its entirety, and instead teach the kids math the way I learned it in grade 6 in the 1970s from Mrs. Smit, a tannie who knew exactly what she was doing, dominee's wife or not.

To echo what the writer of the article says, some skills have to be drilled and drilled and drilled; there is no other way. Mrs Smit drilled us mercilessly, with the aid of a length of cane when necessary, and I am grateful to her to this day. Alas, nowadays no one likes it, because it is "mindless" and "not creative". Add that utter curse of the modern school, the calculator, and you have a whole generation of kids who absolutely, flatly, categorically, refuse to learn their tables.

Still, it soon became clear that there are limits to what kids can do if they had been neglected for the first ten years of their lives. Even the small minority who worked very hard seldom scored above 60% or so, which is simply not enough to take to high school math.

I seem to be one of the few who are actually in favour of math lit, although we may need to approach it a bit differently. We need to start streaming the kids earlier than grade 10, I suspect. If you do not get at least 70% for grade 7 math, you will almost certainly never understand high school math. So such kids should in effect repeat grade 6 and 7 math over and over until, by the time they reach matric, they not only get it but can actually apply it. A person who can apply grade 7 math will have a skill few South Africans currently possess.

Alas, by the time the kids are pushed into math lit in grade 10, they have developed a comprehensive math block. Also, they have been out of the math loop since somewhere in primary school, and have in effect not been doing any math for some years, and now they are suddenly expected to understand all of primary school math plus some basic algebra.

Well, they stand no chance, not even with math lit. I currently have some pupils who fall into this category. Fortunately I am no longer at a formal school; I now work part time for a sort of home school center, where we only have one or two kids per class and where the owner is bright enough to understand that you simply cannot hop, skip and jump grades when it comes to math. So in the case of our grade ten kid who doesn't even understand grade four maths (we know because we gave her a grade 4 exam paper on which she scored something like 17%) she told the parents that there will be no other choice but to start right at the beginning. Even that is proving to be an uphill battle.

Usual story: kid has been neglected since birth, and in fact was recently removed from the care of her mother after being outright abused. You cannot get to school full of bruises you got from mom and then just sail through math, methinks, and no amount of tweaking the syllabus is going to make a difference there.

English grammar question:

Which is correct:

One of the things that bother me... or

One of the things that bothers me...

Would 'bother' refer to the things or to one of them? I don't think I'll ever quite get English. Why? Because it ain't my mother tongue, that's why. I started too late. And if a reasonably intelligent bloke like me, who was not abused or neglected, and has been speaking and reading and writing English for four decades, still struggles with basic concepts, then that gives you an idea of what chance a kid stands with math, if that kid has been suffering severe neglect both at home and at school, all his life.