Barriers to learning mathematics in rural secondary schools

Sao, Lawrence Y. T. (2008-12)

Thesis (MEdPsych (Educational Psychology)--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


The Eastern Cape Province of South Africa is predominantly rural in nature. Many schools within the province are under-resourced in terms of the minimum school equipment such as school furniture, telephones, photocopiers, learner resource material (textbooks), electricity, water ablution facilities, audiovisual equipment and, in many instances, even educators. In the light of the above, it was decided to gain a deeper understanding of the barriers that learners face in learning mathematics in grade 8 in schools in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape Province. A mixed methods research design using both quantitative and qualitative methods was employed, in order to generate data to shed light on the research question. Biographical information of the learners and educators was gained. Six schools were selected and their grade 8 mathematics learners were used in the research. The learners completed a numeracy and mathematical literacy test as well as questionnaires regarding their attitudes to mathematics and literacy. Focus group interviews were also conducted with the participants for the purposes of collaboration of information derived from the test and biographical questionnaire. From the analysis of the data collected, several possible barriers were identified. Among these are that learners exhibit attitudinal barriers towards learning mathematics, they do not make serious attempts to solve problems once they encounter difficulty. The educators seem to lack the mathematics competencies to handle their teaching. They still teach instrumentally in the way they were taught, which could constitute a barrier to the learning. The educators' interaction with the learners takes place only in the classroom time and is therefore limited. A lack of a reading culture among the learners were found. Learners therefore experience difficulties in comprehending mathematical texts because of inadequate vocabulary and reading skills. Learners experience lack of support in their home environments. Basic and prerequisite numeracy skills do not seem to have been acquired at the necessary levels in earlier grades. Various recommendations have been made for all stakeholders involved in the study – educators, caregivers, and the Department of Education in the Eastern Cape Province. The following recommendations were made for educators: they should make an effort to educate themselves on new trends in teaching methodologies. In this regard, educators should use a consistently open-ended teaching approach, accepting alternative views, leaving issues open, and encouraging independent enquiry and participation by means of learner-centred activities. Specifically, educators must refrain from teaching as an attempt to deposit knowledge in the learners through direct instructions but rather adopt the constructivist perspective. It was also recommended that to improve numeracy competency among learners, educators should not just teach mathematics or depend entirely on mathematics but be conscious of the fact that although numeracy may be taught in mathematics classes, to be learned effectively, learners must use it in a wide range of contexts at school and at home, including entertainment and sports. For caregivers, the following recommendations were made: Caregivers serve as a crucial link to their children's movement through the mathematics machinery and as such schools must find a vehicle to support and promote this partnership. Caregivers' involvement in learners' work will be a motivating factor for learners. Even if the caregivers themselves have no formal education, their mere concern and involvement in the learners' work will stimulate their interest and enhance performance. The study also recommends to the Eastern Cape Provincial Government that there is the need to provide adequate infrastructure in rural secondary schools. Furthermore, there is also the need to provide the necessary educator and learner support materials and ensure that there are enough qualified mathematics educators in the schools. It was also recommended that appropriate incentives be given to the educators of mathematics to motivate them to higher performances.

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