App-based Learning: A Focus on Mathematics Education in African Languages

Learning mathematics in a second language has been a significant barrier to understanding mathematical concepts for South African learners. To tackle this challenge, Cambridge University Press developed the Cambridge Mathematics Dictionary App, which provides mathematics definitions in English and isiXhosa. This innovative mobile app is designed for South African learners aged between 10 and 15 (Grades 4 to 9) and focuses on making mathematical terms and concepts accessible and engaging. I was the Product Manager responsible for the development of the app.

The Cambridge Mathematics Dictionary App contains over 900 Maths terms and definitions in English and isiXhosa. The content is presented creatively and in an easily accessible language, even for non-mother tongue speakers of English. The examples provided are relevant to the South African context and are supported by visual content that enhances the explanations and reinforces the concepts.

As Product Manager, one of my primary responsibilities was ensuring the Cambridge Mathematics Dictionary App was developed using a systematic and iterative process. To achieve this, the Successive Approximation Model (SAM) was employed as the instructional design framework. Through SAM’s adaptable and iterative nature, the team effectively designed, developed, and refined the features and content of the app.

Key Features

  1. Easy Search: Users can effortlessly search for mathematical terms in English.
  2. Bilingual Toggle: The app allows users to switch between English and isiXhosa definitions by swiping left or right.
  3. Favourites: Users can tag words as favourites for a personalized, quick, and easy reference list.

The development of the key features such as Easy Search, Bilingual Toggle, and Favourites, were aligned with the ‘Iterative Design Phase’ of SAM. Through repeated prototyping and feedback loops, these features were honed to ensure usability and effectiveness.

Rationale Behind the App

Cambridge developed this app after recognizing that home-language isiXhosa students faced difficulties understanding English mathematical terms, adversely affecting their progress. This challenge is prevalent in South Africa, where learners are often taught subjects in their second or third language. The app advocates for bilingual education and recognizes languages like isiXhosa as co-mediums for teaching and learning. This approach also challenges the myth that African languages are unsuitable for teaching mathematical concepts and encourages students to value their home languages.

During the ‘Preparation Phase’ of SAM, understanding the learner’s context and needs was vital. The recognition of the challenges faced by isiXhosa-speaking students formed the basis of the app’s rationale, which was rooted in enhancing the understanding of mathematical terms through bilingual education.

Mobile Learning: A Paradigm Shift in Education

The Cambridge Mathematics Dictionary App draws on the intersection of education and technology, utilizing mobile learning resources to cultivate 21st-century skills. This approach leverages devices like smartphones and tablets to maximize their enhanced functionalities.

  1. Enhancing Digital Literacy: The app helps learners develop digital literacy and acquire subject-specific skills.
  2. Access to Educational Resources: More affordable smart devices have expanded access to educational resources both inside and outside the classroom.
  3. Promoting Self-Directed Learning: As these devices become more common, they offer thrilling possibilities in education, facilitating easy access to information and enabling learners to develop their skills through self-directed study.

In the ‘Iterative Development Phase’ of SAM, the emphasis was placed on integrating mobile learning resources. The app was designed to leverage the ubiquity of mobile devices and their functionalities to foster digital literacy and self-directed learning.

Impact and Significance

The Cambridge Mathematics Dictionary App has the potential to revolutionize how mathematics is taught and learned in South Africa by:

  1. Improving understanding: The app bridges language barriers and improves comprehension of mathematical concepts by providing mathematical terms in a learner’s home language.
  2. Encouraging Bilingual Education: The app champions bilingual education and uses indigenous languages as mediums for teaching and learning.
  3. Enhancing Digital Literacy: The app fosters digital literacy through mobile learning, which is vital in the contemporary world.
  4. Fostering Self-Directed Learning: The app encourages learners to take ownership of their learning journey by accessing and sharing information and engaging in self-directed study.

In SAM’s ‘Implementation Phase,’ the app was made available to the learners. The iterative design ensured that the app was not only functional but also impactful in bridging language barriers, promoting bilingual education, enhancing digital literacy, and fostering self-directed learning.

The app addresses linguistic barriers and fosters an inclusive and engaging learning environment by incorporating mobile learning and offering mathematical education in indigenous languages. As technology continues to evolve and become more accessible, such approaches are vital in shaping the future of education. Employing SAM was instrumental in the successful development of the Cambridge Mathematics Dictionary App. SAM’s iterative process ensured continuous refinement and adaptation, which was crucial in developing an app that addresses real-world challenges faced by learners. The Cambridge Mathematics Dictionary App serves as an example of how employing a robust instructional design model like SAM can lead to the creation of innovative educational tools.

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