South Africa experiences a shortage of skills in fields such as engineering and science, and this shortage of human capital has the potential to impact negatively on service delivery and the economic growth of the country. One of the causes of the failure of our education system to produce enough scientists or engineers, for example, is the apparent failure of the general education system to produce a critical mass of learners with a strong background in Mathematics and Physical Science that can enter higher education and succeed in these fields.
There is also the challenge of language. As a multi-cultural country, South Africa has chosen English as the language of business and industry and of study at most of the institutions of learning. The issue of language poses a great challenge for the majority of the learners, and this exacerbates issues of learning and performance even more.
Our work is based on the widely-shared belief that in order to improve the quality and effectiveness of learning mathematics and science in South African schools, it is critical to attend to the following issues:
- Teacher content knowledge
- The pedadogy or methodology practiced in classrooms
- The use and appropriateness of learning materials
- Raise the level of learners’ active engagement with and sensemaking of mathematics.
Stated differently: to improve performance substantially, the culture of teaching and learning mathematics and science need to be transformed from being dominantly procedural to being conceptual.