UFH empowers Amatole West Maths Teachers following calculator study

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The University of Fort continues to play a meaningful role in empowering teacher and student communities in its surrounding areas.

Earlier this week, UFH hosted in excess of 70 teachers at its Alice campus for a one-day workshop geared at empowering mathematics teachers from schools in the Amatole West district.

The workshop followed after a 2021 NRF funded study on calculator provisioning in the Grade 12 mathematics jointly led by UFH DVC: Teaching and Learning, Professor Renuka Vithal, and Wits University’s Professor Karin Brodie.  The scholars  surveyed 213 learners from ten Amatole West schools to understand whether calculators are used in the classroom and during exams.

The findings of the study revealed: nearly one third of learners (34%) do not own calculators; only 41,9% of learners have been taught to use calculators; and one third (36,2%) of learners indicated teachers did not use calculators in the class room.

In addition, a vast majority of learners (84%) stated that they needed help with the use of calculators.

Through an analysis of mathematics examination papers, the study identified that learners may lose up to 15% of marks in Mathematics examinations by not having a calculator or not being competent in using it.

“Currently, there is no policy regarding calculator provisioning in the Eastern Cape and this is left to schools, parents and external sponsors,” commented Professor Vithal.

“A good quality scientific calculator is a significant cost for those who rely on various social grants, and it is not only used for mathematics, but for over a dozen other subjects like mathematics literacy, technical mathematics, physical science, accounting, agricultural sciences just to name a few,” she said.

As part of the pilot study, teachers were provided with calculators,  past mathematics exam papers, and Department of Basic Education (DBE) matric maths diagnostic reports.    Following this, and with interventions of the Amatole West District, a significant improvement was observed in the performance of learners from the Amatole West region who wrote mathematics last year:  learners passing mathematics with a mark of 30% and above increased by 20%, from 27,4% in 2020 to 47.2% in 2021.

Building on this success, UFH hosted an empowerment workshop for all mathematics teachers in the district to further augment the activities that contributed to the improvement in mathematics results.

Teachers were provided with new Casio calculators and device training.  The institution further shared of past matric mathematics papers and memos as well as Department of Basic Education (DBE) matric mathematics diagnostic reports.

“We are confident that our workshop will empower teachers across the entire Amatole West district for a cascading effect on learners.  Now, teachers will be able to conduct lessons in mathematics using the calculators,” said Professor Vithal.

Lauren Izaaks, a qualified educator at James Ralph which distributes Casio calculator facilitated training yesterday.

“The purpose of the training is to upskill the educators on how to better teach using the calculator and for them to take the knowledge and skills they have acquired back into the classroom and to impart the skills with their learners.

“Calculator skills will allow learners to improve accuracy and speed in mathematics and this will give more learners a chance to solve tedious calculations that cannot always be done manually.  In turn, improving mathematics marks overall.

“The training provided is free of charge to the educators.  This is our way of empowering the educators better,” she said.

Dr Odilo Ndiweni, the Head of Mathematics Dept at UFH, who has been co-ordinating the calculator training programme for the University and a researcher in the study, will be following up with further workshops focussing on mathematical content knowledge and the use of the calculator.