# Study orientation and knowledge of basic vocabulary in Mathematics in the primary school

### Abstract

Whatever the reason, underachievement in mathematics in South Africa is endemic and tantamount to a national disaster. Despite the transformation of education in South Africa, failure rates in mathematics at school and university remain unacceptably high, and the number of learners who leave Grade 12 with a pass mark in both mathematics and physical science is unacceptably low. Relatively little has been written about inadequate performance of Grade 4 to 7 learners in mathematics in South Africa, and even less about possible solutions to the problem. South African primary school learners’ lack of basic mathematics and vocabulary skills in particular is a source of major concern. In the ﬁrst national systemic evaluation of learners’ skills in English, mathematics and science in 2001 Grade 3 learners achieved an average of 30% in mathematics. In the follow-up studies, Grade 6 learners achieved a national average of 27% in mathematices, in 2004, while nationally eighty percent of Grade 3 and 6 learners achieved less than 50 percent for mathematics and Languages in 2008. The ﬁnding that so many primary school learners today are not numerate or literate has a direct inﬂuence both on the teaching and the learning of mathematics. Everything possible needs to be done to change this situation. During the past 15 years, the research focus in mathematics has shifted to an examination of the inﬂuence of social, cognitive and metacognitive, conative and affective factors on achievement in mathematics. In this regard, it is of particular importance that an ongoing investigation into “other” aspects that impact on achievement in mathematics is launched, rather than to restrict the investigation to mere assessment of objectives that are aimed at continually evaluating cognitive progress in mathematics. There is sufﬁcient empirical evidence that an adequate orientation to the study of mathematics correlates positively with high achievement in mathematics on secondary and tertiary levels. The aim of this research was to investigate the extent to which the performance in study orientation (Study Orientation questionnaire in Mathematics (Primary)) and knowledge of basic vocabulary/terminology in mathematics (Mathematics Vocabulary (Primary)) (vocabulary as one aspect of language in Mathematics) of Grade 4 to 7 learners predict performance in mathematics (Basic Mathematics (Primary)). Three standardised questionnaires were administered, namely the Study Orientation questionnaire in Mathematics (Primary), or SOM(P), Mathematics Vocabulary (Primary) or (MV(P), and Basic Mathematics (Primary) or BM(P). The participants consisted of learners in Grade 4 to 7 (n = 1 103) in North-West Province with respectively Afrikaans, English and Tswana as their home language. Results from the data, by calculating intercorrelations and stepwise regression, conﬁrmed that learners’ performance in mathematics (BM(P)) can be predicted through their performance in the knowledge of basic vocabulary in mathematics (MV(P)), their “maths” anxiety, study attitude towards and study habits in mathematics (SOM(P)). The results can be implemented to improve learners’ performance in mathematics when teachers identify inadequate knowledge of basic vocabulary in mathematics as well as study orientation (for example, “maths” anxiety, study attitude towards and study habits in mathematics) in the early years of schooling. Learners’ scores can be checked to identify those requiring aid, support, remediation and/or counselling. An analysis of individual answers (particularly those where learner’s replies differ signiﬁcantly in respect of the answers usually given by good achievers in mathematics) could be extremely useful. Enculturing learners to the vocabulary of mathematical language is an aspect of instruction that needs speciﬁc attention. The three questionnaires, which are administered in this research, provide mathematics teachers with standardised tools with which to make a simple systematic analysis of a number of important background particulars, feelings, attitudes, habits and customs with regard to the learner’s academic orientation in mathematics, as well as to their knowledge of basic vocabulary in mathematics that could be remedied when inadequate.