Using print and digital resources to teach mathematics in South Africa

South Africa has an ongoing issue with the teaching and learning of mathematics. A University of Stellenbosch study in 2012 found that only 58% of grade 6 learners were functionally numerate, stating “at least a quarter of children have learnt so little in six years of formal full-time schooling that they have not even mastered functional literacy or numeracy”. The Department of Basic Education’s statistics shows that only 3% of grade nine learners got over a 50% average in mathematics. The problem is complex; factors include a poor grounding in numeracy in the Foundation Phase years, coupled with some teachers who are not comfortable with the subject. While in no ways a maths expert, I’ve been working on a digital and print blended maths product for the past year, which I hope could add to the resources teachers can draw on to assist learners understanding mathematical concepts. 

The Study & Master Maths Online Workbooks integrate a print book with targeted practice exercise and an online mathematics teaching and learning platform to improve understanding of critical mathematical topics. A recent report by the UNESCO Working Group on Education states that blending traditional off-line education approaches with digital applications appears to be a more successful approach to digital learning, with activities that involve engaging with physical resources proving effective in a wide variety of contexts.

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Teaching phonics in Nigeria

For the past few years I have been working (for Cambridge University Press) on the development of print and digital material for the Nigerian schools’ market. With a large and competitive schooling system, this has proven a challenging and engaging experience. In order to differentiate ourselves from our competitors we have tried a number of strategies. One of the more successful ones so far has been the development of an integrated digital phonics course, provided with our print English textbooks. Phonics are already included in the NERDC English curriculum and covered by the teacher in the classroom, but with many Nigerians second or third language English-speakers, correct pronunciation is highly valued.

But first, what is phonics?

Phonics is used to teach reading through the development of a child’s phonemic understanding. The aim of teaching phonics is for a learner to associate the smallest unit of sound (or phoneme) with the corresponding spelling patterns they represent. Learners will eventually be able to decode new words by sounding them out. It is a very successful approach to teaching reading and pronunciation, used in schools globally. 

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