Duration of Project: 2006-2007
Geographical base for project: Gauteng
Evaluation conducted by: Quality Projects in Education (QPIE)
Evaluation period: 2006-2009
The Upgrading of Mathematics Educators Project was a custom-designed BEd programme offered through the University of Fort Hare. It was distinctive in that it included a strong on-site support and mentoring component, while focused on upgrading the content knowledge and pedagogic skills of Mathematics teachers.
The project, conducted through workshops and residential teaching, further supported teachers with provision of teaching resource materials; assisting with setting up peer support networks; providing intensive in-classroom support and mentoring to teachers.
The evaluation, conducted by Quality Projects in Education (QPiE), assessed the professional development programme and followed up on 12 educators over a three-year period to trace the uptake of the programme on their teaching practice. Emphasis was placed on studying teachers in their school contexts to understand the factors which impacted on their ability to provide effective teaching and learning. A classroom environment survey was used to determine if the project teachers were changing their teaching and learning practices to align themselves more with the new curriculum.
Grade 10 learners taught by the project teachers were also tested on basic skills items and Grade 10 mathematics curriculum content and their results compared with six control schools from the surrounding areas. Learners completed an attitude survey to gauge their motivation to learn and disposition towards mathematics. Testing was conducted at the end of 2006, 2007 and 2008.
The evaluation judged the professional development component of the project to have successfully provided a structured programme which maximised teachers' opportunities to develop themselves to become effective Mathematics teachers, taking their context into account.
However, for some teachers the BEd was used for personal development and they were not interested or able to translate this into changed practice in the classroom. Others were able to do this and were examples of dedicated teachers implementing their new-found knowledge.
Aside from personal motivation, constraints created by the school (such as low staff morale and dysfunctional school management) were a key determinant in translating professional development into improved classroom practice.
Overall, the project teachers made significant positive changes in the Mathematics classroom environment even though these gains did not continue into 2008 after the teachers had graduated.
The test scores of the learners at the project schools showed, on average, some improvement between 2006 and 2007 while the control schools showed an average decrease in performance. This pointed to better learning in the project schools in 2007. However, in October 2008, the test scores revealed no significant difference between the project and control schools.
In general, while in almost all cases, the mean scores on the basic GET skills section of the test improved from the beginning to the end of the year, the overall level of achievement in the Grade 10 mathematics content declined. The concern was that the focus was on the improvement of basic skills at the expense of progressing with the current grade work at the time.
No direct link could be found to suggest that competence of the project Mathematics teachers would result in the improvement of the Mathematics Grade 10 scores. The learners entering Grade 10 had very low basic skills in Mathematics – despite competent teaching they are not able to access the Grade 10 level Mathematics and consequently showed very little improvement over the year.
Understandably, then, learners felt that they lack Mathematical competence although they regarded Mathematics as a high status and useful subject. The overall attitude of the Grade 10 learners in the project schools declined over 2008, while the overall attitude of the Grade 10 learners in the control schools increased due to higher scores on perception of competence and confidence – despite the extremely poor performance on the tests. The learners at the project schools showed significantly higher mean perceptions of teacher affirmation which was encouraging.
Serious intervention is required before or during Grade 10 to make sure learners doing Grade 10 have basic Mathematical skills.
While previous programmes and interventions had focused on schools and teachers, the report recommended that it was time to focus on the learners and motivate them to learn Mathematics and provide opportunities to remediate basic skills.
It was also recommended that holiday programmes be introduced for learners in the GET phase, where Mathematics could be presented as fun, exciting and valuable. Such a holiday programme should not be curriculum based, but rather focused on teaching learners basic reasoning skills for Mathematics in the context of number games, puzzle solving, Mathematics logic, and the like.
The report suggested that teaching higher levels of Mathematics to children who did not have the basics was totally unproductive. The study suggested that teachers offer a programme to remediate for basic skills while continuing with grade-appropriate work. This required careful analysis of the basic skills required in each section and timely "teenage appropriate" activities to refresh or introduce the basic concepts that would be required.