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Grade R Early Mathematics Project (Western Cape)



Grade R Early Mathematics Project (Western Cape)

This project involves the training of district officials to support Grade R teachers to teach early numeracy through a well-researched conceptual and coherent approach to Mathematics. This project is implemented in partnership with the Western Cape Department of Education, The ELMA Foundation, Maitri Trust, and Investec.

Follow this link to view the Project Evaluation Report.


The Department of Basic Education (DBE) introduced a policy to mandate Grade R into mainstream schooling and extend universal access to two years of early childhood development. This policy is a step in the right direction as it provides an opportunity to make an intervention at a strategic level to transform learner performance by ensuring that learners are ready for the numeracy and literacy requirements at Grade 1 level.

This project is focused on strengthening the learning and teaching of Mathematics in Grade R through developing and implementing a high-quality teacher training programme at Grade R level. Grade R teachers will be provided with Mathematics knowledge, in line with Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS), and an understanding of how children learn Mathematical concepts. The project will be implemented in all Grade R classes in the Western Cape, both at public schools and community sites.

The SDU will develop an Early Mathematics Programme targeted at Grade R teachers. This Programme will include a train-the-trainer course where District Subject and Learning Support Advisors will be trained by the SDU. The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) officials will, in turn, deliver the Programme to Grade R teachers and practitioners. The WCED officials will receive a UCT accreditation at NQF Level 6 and the teachers SACE Continuing Professional Teacher Development (CPTD) points.

This project is funded by a partnership of donors consisting of the ELMA Foundation, Zenex Foundation, Maitri Trust, and the Investec Charitable Trust.

Challenges to be addressed

Research has shown that effective learning in Grade R can make a significant difference to learner performance throughout schooling by getting learners ready for formal literacy and numeracy required in Grade 1. This is even more pertinent in societies where poverty is rife.

We also know that if we do not deal with the problem in the early years, the problem will persist throughout the later years of schooling. International studies like PIRLS (language and literacy) and TIMMS (Mathematics and Science)1 have shown that our learners are not performing to expected standards at both their grade and age levels. We also know that learning is cumulative. Thus, if a child has not grasped a Mathematical concept or is not adequately literate in a language, it is likely they will fall behind, repeat grades, develop special education needs, or drop out of school unless the gaps are remediated.2 This means that it is critically important to get the basics right.

A study commissioned in 2013 by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) and DBE3 revealed that Grade R is not making an impact on learner performance. The research indicated that whilst access to Grade R increased considerably, the quality of the provision remains a concern. They suggested that the Grade R content being taught was inappropriate for the age group, it was not conceptually sound and did not build learners pre-reading and pre-numeracy capabilities sufficiently to make an impact. Nis Spaull, one of the researchers on this study, contends that Grade R is generally taught as a watered-down Grade 1, which is not working.

How does the project tackle this issue?

Quality Grade R involves implementing a conceptual approach to learning. In Mathematics, this means that learners must be exposed to use Mathematics to make meaning of their world. Thus conceptual early Mathematics draws on learners’ experiences and uses concrete examples to allow learners to use Mathematics to understand and explain their world and find order. Thus concepts such as sorting, comparing, recognising patterns, spatial visualisation and counting must underpin the teaching approach and curriculum. This is different from a rote learning approach that focuses on meaningless chanting of number counting. The research highlights the importance of intervening in both literacy and numeracy at Grade R level.

Hence this project aims to equip and support Grade R teachers with an understanding of the Mathematics concepts so that they can teach the curriculum in a way that engages learners and helps them grasp the relevant Mathematics concepts. It must be noted that this project follows the successful implementation of the literacy intervention funded by USAID in all Grade R classes in the Western Cape.

The project goal is to develop, test and evaluate a province-wide teacher training programme to improve teaching and learning of Grade R Mathematics.

Project Components

The project has four main components, as discussed below.

Developing Materials

The project will develop the Early Mathematics Programme that will include the following range of teacher materials and training manuals:

  • 5 Mathematics concept guides for teachers
  • A training manual
  • Facilitators’ guide
  • Classroom kit
  • Training Subject and Learning Support Advisors in the Western Cape

A 30-hour training course and associated training manual for Subject Advisors will be developed. This training will take place over a period of 30 hours (5 days) and will focus on supporting the district officials to deliver the content and methodology of the Early Mathematics Programme to Grade R teachers. This course will be delivered by SDU staff, together with WordWorks, PSP and ORTSA. This group of trainers will deliver the Early Mathematics Train-the-Trainer course to 70 WCED Early Childhood Development and Foundation Phase Subject Advisors and 54 WCED Learning Support Advisors. This training course is registered with the University of Cape Town at NQF Level 6. The Early Mathematics Programme training that Subject Advisors will conduct with teachers carry South African Council of Educators (SACE) CPTD points.

Grade R Teacher Training

The WCED Subject and Learning Support Advisors will train 3,800 Grade R teachers and practitioners in district-based cluster sessions to implement the programme in their classrooms. This will take place in all the Western Cape Education Districts. Grade R teachers will be provided with the Mathematics knowledge and a framework for understanding how children learn Mathematics concepts, together with supporting materials and examples of activities in classroom settings with children. Tools such as videos will be used to make evident what teachers might never have seen or experienced themselves.

Each Grade teacher and practitioner will receive 44 hours of training that will contribute towards their SACE CPTD points. Following the block training, Subject Advisors, with support from SDU staff, will engage in classroom support visits to reflect, support and monitor the implementation of the project in the classroom.

Dissemination and Advocacy

The project partners will engage in an advocacy strategy to promote the roll-out of the project in other provinces. This will include discussions with the National Department of Education to establish structures to set up the training and roll-out of the programme in other South African provinces.

Lessons from this project informed the development of a similar intervention for Grade R teachers in Gauteng.


  1. SJ Howie. TIMMS-R: What has changed in South African pupils’ performance in mathematics between 1995-1998? http://www.amesa.org.za/TIMSSR.htm
  2. N Spaull and J Viljoen. Starting behind and staying behind: The case of insurmountable learning deficits in SA.
  3. The Impact of the Introduction of Grade R on Learning Outcomes (2013). This impact evaluation was initiated by the DPME and the DBE. It was conducted by independent researchers based at the Research on Socio-Economic Policy (ReSep) at the University of Stellenbosch.
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