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Numeracy in the Foundation Phase: Base-10 Mathematics Project




A foundational understanding of how numbers are decomposed and reconfigured to make equivalent combinations is essential for learners to grasp algebra in later grades. This includes understanding the properties of zero, and the identity, associative, and distributive properties in mathematics.

More efficient approaches need to be applied in classrooms urgently as only 16% of South African Grade 3 learners are performing at the appropriate level. Furthermore, children’s performance in the early grades is strongly predictive of whether they will complete school and achieve the National Senior Certificate.

The Base-10 Mathematics Project is currently being implemented in KwaZulu-Natal to address this problem.


Base-10 thinking is important for understanding algorithms, such as addition or subtraction, and is central to abstract algebra. Many teachers do not have sufficient time to develop number sense among learners. The curriculum also does not prescribe mental mathematics content required to teach number sense, and learners are not developing the required skills. Development programmes are thus needed to support teachers in teaching learners mental maths strategies and fluency.

The project aims to train 80 Department Heads annually to enable them to support and train teachers at their respective schools to implement the Base-10 thinking programme. The project team also works with Subject Advisors to provide support and oversight to Departmental Heads.

Phase 1 included a pilot at ten schools in Gauteng. Phase 2 is being implemented in KwaZulu-Natal, and the number of schools participating has increased in partnership with the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

The project has two main components. Firstly, a package of materials for weekly mathematics lessons throughout the year is being developed. Secondly, the project team is conducting training sessions with Foundation Phase Subject Advisors and Departmental Heads on these materials. Thereafter, Department Heads provide training to teachers. This training and support model is similar to that adopted by the Grade R Teacher Development Project in Gauteng. 

Project success is measured in terms of learning outcomes using quasi-experimental, qualitative, and quantitative approaches. Pre- and post-tests are conducted to monitor learner progress. Results to date show substantial improvement. Only a quarter of learners were able to use more sophisticated counting strategies. This increased to nearly three-fifths by the end of the Foundation Phase after project implementation.

The Project Steering Committee includes experts from Zenex Foundation, the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal Provincial DBE, and the National DBE. The Committee provides strategic guidance and regularly reviews the planning and progress of the project.


The Base-10 Mathematics Project aims to: 

  1. Improve the content knowledge and understanding of Subject Advisors and Departmental Heads on the implementation of mental mathematics in the classroom through Base-10 thinking resources and training.
  2. Enhance teaching capacity in mental mathematics and thereby mitigate learning deficits that result in poor outcomes at later stages of schooling.


There are four main outcomes required for the successful implementation of the project:

  1. Utilisation and uptake of resources and guides by teachers and learners.
  2. Mental maths lessons are embedded in learning and teaching practice.
  3. More learners transition from counting in ones to strategic calculation techniques by Grade 4.
  4. Departmental Heads develop the ability to provide support for teachers in implementing the above three outcomes


This project is aligned with the Zenex 2025 Strategy of improving the capacity of teachers to teach mathematics and building evidence for the improvement of mathematics in the Foundation Phase. The teaching of mental mathematics in the early years is in line with the hierarchal structure of mathematics and will mitigate teaching and learning deficits that result in poor learning outcomes at later stages of schooling.

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