14 July 2017

When learners struggle with Maths in Grades 10 – 12, it’s very likely due to gaps in their learning from previous years.

This makes it vital to remember that Mathematics has a 12-year curriculum and that Senior Phase is the last chance to rectify problems from primary school Maths, while also preparing learners for FET Maths!

The most recent Grade 9 Mathematics ANA results paint a terrifying picture. National average marks in this grade were 13% in 2012, 14% in 2013 and 11% in 2014 (with no further results since then). Yes, you read that right – 11%!

There are numerous school-based interventions that have been implemented in recent years to try and improve basic skills. Minister of Education, Angie Motshegka, believes that many of these are making a difference in the Foundation and Intermediate Phases of learning. ANA results also bear this out to some extent. The exception is the Grade 9 results… the very year that serves as the last foundation layer before the important FET stage.

There are many possible reasons why learners might not perform well in Mathematics in Grade 9 or even during the whole Senior Phase. Unlike in other subjects, a weakness in one area of Mathematics usually causes difficulties in other areas too. This does not happen in a subject like Life Sciences, for example, in which challenges with a topic like Ecology will not affect understanding and ability in Respiration or Genetics. However, in Mathematics, good algebraic skills and sound understanding of numbers are crucial to every part of the curriculum, all parts being integrated. This means that, during Senior Phase, learners must build all the skills they will need for their FET Mathematics learning.

Another factor is that learners entering the Senior Phase come from a variety of feeder schools, all of which prepare learners for High School in slightly different ways. Senior Phase shows up these areas of weakness, often for the first time.  

A further element that increases Maths anxiety is the fact that the important concept of numbers changes from being concrete to abstract during Grade 7, and many other Mathematical operations become more complex. Marks frequently start to drop, and with that comes decreasing confidence and even a fear of Mathematics (De Wet, 2010).

Improvements in Mathematics have to come from the department, the school and the teacher – but parents and learners would do well to put in some extra effort too. Make it a priority to strengthen your child’s Maths skills in the Senior Phase, not later.

Source: De Wet, P. 2010. What skills must a Grade 7 have to succeed with high school Maths? Learning and Teaching Mathematics, 8(2010), 36-40. AMESA)

A useful, CAPS-aligned tool for this, with lots of questions for regular practice, is the set of 5 Guidelines Senior Phase Mathematics Study Guides. They are designed to eliminate gaps before the learner enters the pressurised FET school years. Click here for more information.

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