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Support for mathematics teachers and students in previously disadvantaged Cape Town high schools
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A large majority of school leavers in South Africa have limited educational and career opportunities in occupational fields such as medicine, engineering, information technology and scientific research because of poor performance in mathematics and science at Grade 12 level. Although various forms of support for mathematics teaching and learning have been introduced by the government and private institutions to overcome some of these challenges and improve performance, South African mathematics performance still remains at the bottom of the rank. Underachievement in mathematics has been particularly recognised as a major problem in schools serving black, coloured and Indian students from historically poor communities also known as previously disadvantaged communities - in South Africa. The main purpose of this research was to increase understanding of the specific challenges of mathematics teaching and learning at a selected number of schools in the previously disadvantaged Cape Flats area of Cape Town, and to explore the availability of, access to, and utilisation of support opportunities by the mathematics teachers and students at these schools with the aim of identifying appropriate support programmes for such schools. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory was used as the theoretical framework for this research. Bronfenbrenner advocated that research investigating human development should involve a field-theoretical approach in which the interaction of process, person, and context are taken into consideration. The underlying rationale for a process-person-context research model is also applicable to organisational development, and is a useful model for understanding how developmental processes (e.g. mathematics teaching and learning) and outcomes (e.g. students’ achievement in mathematics) vary as a joint function of the characteristics of not only the school itself but also those of the ecological systems or environment surrounding the school. The study was conducted using an exploratory sequential mixed method research (MMR) approach. Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected and analysed. This enabled the researcher to conduct an in-depth examination of the varied, detailed and extensive array of information obtained from different sources to provide extensive explanation that portray a holistic picture of the situation at each school. Five schools from two education districts in the Cape Metropole participated in the study. Five curriculum advisers from the eight education districts in the Cape Metropole in which the schools are situated, as well as five mathematics teachers and heads of departments responsible for mathematics teaching and learning at each of the five schools were interviewed. Twenty Grade 12 mathematics students at each of the five schools completed a survey questionnaire designed to elicit respondents’ views on challenges they faced in the teaching and learning of mathematics. This included their views on parental involvement and support. The survey was followed by focus group interviews with twenty Grade 12 mathematics students at each school, thus totalling 100 mathematics student participants. The findings suggest that although certain current mathematics support initiatives prove to be effective in some ways, various limitations exist in terms of the purpose and objectives of these opportunities. Numerous factors need to be taken into consideration for a mathematics support opportunity to be deemed ‘appropriate’. Mathematics support programmes ought to encourage partnerships with mathematics experts, with the main focus on underperforming (in mathematics) schools. Further, greater emphasis should be placed on the structural components of the mathematics curriculum, with specific reference to the weighing of practical content and the flexibility of the curriculum to adapt to underperforming students. Mathematics support programmes should prioritise the use of technology in the mathematics classroom as it is currently undervalued, despite the technological advancement in all other areas of our daily living. The study proposes that the Western Cape Education Department’s policies regarding mathematics support opportunities should regularly be revised and evaluated by those responsible for policy coordination, strategic people management and education planning, with the aim of keeping individuals at departmental level and at school level responsible and accountable for the implementation of specific tasks. These tasks include the allocation of resources and support from departmental officials. In addition, various methods of communication should be effectively utilised, from management level at the Western Cape Education Department to the school and the community level (parents), with regard to circulating information on any mathematics support opportunities identified and available to mathematics teachers and students.