The challenge of inadequate achievement in mathematics: Focus on a meta-approach
As is the case elsewhere in the world, all stakeholders in South Africa are deeply concerned about the level and scope of underachievement in mathematics, not only at Grade 12 level, but, indeed, at University, University of Technology and Further Education and Training levels. These concerns assume a deeper dimension in light of the fact that inadequate achievement in mathematics inevitably will have a ripple effect on the academic situation in any country: inadequate achievement in mathematics precludes learners from applying for admission to sought-after ﬁ elds of study, which, in turn, prevents numerous learners from realising their true potential and, eventually, from being happy and successful in careers that they might otherwise have been able to execute successfully. It goes without saying that inadequate achievement in mathematics will impact negatively on the overall economic situation in any country (even more so in a developing country such as South Africa). Truth being, achievement in mathematics amounts to equipping oneself with survival skills. In this article, the spotlight shifts from a narrow and outdated focus on problems that are associated with inadequate achievement in mathematics to possible solutions for this disconcerting situation and the implied challenge it raises. The focus is thus on three levels that collectively underpin and impact on achievement in mathematics, viz. the macro level, the meso level and the micro level. The macro level refers mainly to the input by the national government (and, by default, the National Department of Education). In the ﬁ rst instance, it is the responsibility of the state to provide adequate schooling facilities for all learners, irrespective of where they ﬁ nd themselves. Furthermore, it is the duty of the state to ensure that every learner has access to basic facilities, including food, water, sanitation and housing. The state (via the National Department of Education) is also obliged to ensure that the basic philosophy that underpins mathematics education in the country is scrutinised continuously and that changes be made to existing teaching philosophy should these be recommended by the majority of stakeholders. Case in point: the implementation of Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) in South African mathematics classrooms has now already been under the spotlight for a number of years and there seems to be general consensus that it is essential to facilitate a number of basic changes to this philosophy and (especially) to the way in which it is implemented in South African classrooms. Teachers, for instance, constantly complain about matters such as an administrative overload, unacceptably high stress levels (brought about by factors broadly associated with OBE-related issues) and the fact that the laudable philosophy underpinning OBE is not consistently realised in practice. At the meso level, the spotlight falls on factors related to teacher training. For example, it seems highly advisable to optimise teacher training in mathematics, to facilitate training in emotional intelligence, to conduct a national audit on the number of mathematics teachers currently teaching mathematics (in terms of how many teachers are currently in the system, where these teachers ﬁ nd themselves, their level of training, etc.) to determine training needs in mathematics and to facilitate a more equitable distribution of teachers across the country. For example, it is proposed that all graduating teachers be compelled to do community service in an effort to facilitate a better understanding of the challenges that teachers in various parts of the country face, thereby breaking down barriers between people. At micro level, the emphasis is on measures that might be taken to provide guidance to parents on how to assist their children in mathematics on the one hand and on practical ways in which to help learners in mathematics perform better in mathematics and leave school better equipped to deal with typical challenges at tertiary level on the other. It is hoped that this article will contribute to an improvement in the disconcerting situation to be found in mathematics classrooms across South Africa. I sincerely hope to have sensitised readers to the need not only to talk about the situation in mathematics in South Africa, but instead to start acting and in so doing to impact on the situation in practical ways.