South African maths whiz-kids jet off. 221215 Picture: YouTube
South African maths whiz-kids jet off. 221215 Picture: YouTube

SA needs to rethink the ways maths is taught in pre-schools - expert

By Zodidi Dano Time of article published Sep 30, 2021

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It is no secret that South Africa is lagging behind when it comes to mathematics and now experts have revived conversations on the importance to bring maths to the forefront calling for an urgent rethink of pre-school maths education.

The Covid-19 pandemic has for the past two years changed the way education is delivered, which has been to the detriment of pupils as they have far less contact learning. In fact, the pandemic has caused decreased learning and teaching time.

Academic advisor in early years at ADvTECH Lynda Eagle said it was important to understand how children learn.

“What is relevant and how we can make the necessary connections, is vital if we are not only going to prepare students for what they may face in the future but also if we are going to develop them as self-confident,” she said.

Eagle said pupils must be ready and prepared to solve problems that they may encounter in future – problems that may look very different to those we would have faced in the past.

And this is the role that maths plays in life, it empowers one to adapt, manipulate and change situations, to be creative and innovative and contribute to their communities in a positive and beneficial manner.

“Mathematics is one of the areas that we encounter in our everyday lives. It plays a vital role in the way the world works but it also appears to, in many cases, conjure up fear, anxiety, and avoidance from a young age.

“We, therefore, need to ask why this is so, and the answer may be the way in which we approach and teach mathematics – particularly during the younger years. By shifting practices – by understanding how children learn, observing them while they play, tapping into their interests, making meaningful connections, and building a creative, problem-solving culture, we can prepare them in a positive way for future learning in mathematics and life in general.”

Eagle said that while it is important to build robust connections between number and quantity, it is equally important to help students make sense of how mathematics works, how it is connected to other areas and to develop spatial awareness.

“We need to situate mathematics within the real world, and provide students with plentiful and meaningful opportunities where they are able to hypothesise, explore, experiment, investigate and discover – where they learn through situations and the manipulation of objects in a concrete way in order to build their understanding and to make those all-important connections.”

Of utmost importance is for parents and teachers to be patient, and give pupils not only the opportunity to explore and experiment in the mathematical space but also the time they need.

Eagle said it was vital to recognise that children learn at their own pace and in their own way and that this process cannot be rushed.

“Teachers will do well in adopting a strategy where they get to know the students and introduce the concepts in mathematics that are so important in a meaningful and concrete manner, while connecting concepts not only through man-made materials, examples and situations but also by linking them to mathematics in nature, real-life and the arts. Just as in life, recognise that building positive relationships always leads to more successful outcomes, and in future hopefully also the creation of spaces in which mathematics is celebrated.”

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