Many evaluation studies undertaken by Zenex have highlighted knowledge gaps in maths education as a key factor in poor learning outcomes in South African schooling. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school closures had a further negative effect on already burgeoning learning backlogs. The Senior Phase Mathematics Teachers Project is an Education Technology (Ed-Tech) teacher-led pilot project addressing learning backlogs in Grades 8 and 9. This project engages a technological learning platform that enables teachers to address gaps in mathematics knowledge together with learners in the classroom. Technology solutions which place teachers at the centre of Ed-Tech in lesson delivery, although recognised as having significant potential for change, have not yet been adequately tested.
The Senior Phase Mathematics Teachers Project is a partnership between the Zenex Foundation, the Siyavula Foundation, UNICEF, and the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE). This project is based in Gauteng and runs for three years (2022–2024). The project implementation team and the GDE will select 10 schools from a district where the Siyavula Foundation has a well-established working relationship.
At the beginning of 2022, the GDE delivered an online baseline assessment whereby Grade 8 learners used the Siyavula practice platform. The results showed a growing need for dedicated remedial support on material that was taught in earlier grades. The absence of such critical knowledge makes it almost impossible for learners to comprehend new concepts and knowledge. To this end, an algorithm-based Question Bank integrates backlog topics going as far back as Grade 4 to assist learners in closing the gaps in knowledge needed to move forward with their current learning process.
This teacher-led initiative enables teachers (facilitated by an ICT coach for technical and administrative support) to identify learner backlogs via Siyavula’s diagnostic assessments. These knowledge gaps can then be remediated by the teacher during a 45-minute weekly lesson. The more time learners spend practising questions on the platform, the better their chances of improved performance. This includes dedicated homework activities focused on specific tasks which are loaded onto the platform for learners to practice. The Siyavula platform has the advantage of providing learners with free material that is available for use on mobile devices. The cost of broadband is covered by MTN.
Most technology-based interventions are implemented after school hours using tutors for support. Here there is little or no teacher involvement. Although these methods can be effective, they are seldom linked or integrated into core teaching and learning. The key objective of this project is to test a teacher-led classroom-based solution that benefits both teachers and learners: it allows teachers to diagnose almost immediately what learners might be struggling with, thereby improving their capacity to address learner knowledge gaps. Learners too can independently address the missing conceptual subject matter via the Siyavula platform by using the Question Bank which directs the learner to the relevant content. The overarching aim is to close knowledge gaps so that learners can understand new concepts and steadily follow their Grade curriculum.
- ICT is integral to making teachers’ work easier in the classroom, (e.g., improved teacher reporting with less administration required).
- Increased teacher knowledge about which concepts learners struggle with and how to bring these into the classroom, thus reaching and impacting more learners within a given time.
- Teachers experience this platform as user-friendly, given that minimal training is required.
- Teachers utilise Siyavula data for formative or summative assessments.
- Learner uptake of adaptive practice and self-study support.
- Learners master the Grade 8 and 9 mathematics curricula.
Remediating learning backlogs aligns with the prime strategic focus of the Zenex Foundation. Although the current strategy focuses on the Foundation Phase, the hypothesis is that by addressing knowledge gaps in Grades 8 and 9, by the time learners reach Grade 12, there will be far fewer learners left behind. The ultimate goal is the wider transformation to an open online solution that all learners in the country can access.