School of Education

Inaugural Lecture Tackles Low Achievement Outcomes in Mathematics

Education academic Professor Sarah Bansilal’s inaugural lecture on the Edgewood campus was entitled, Low achievement outcomes in mathematics: Issues of learning, teaching and just some common sense. She shared some of the insights gained from her research on the factors which hamper success in mathematics learning.
From left: DVC and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize; Professor Sarah Bansilal; Dean and Head of the School of Education Professor Thabo Msibi and College Dean of Research Professor Pholoho Morojele.
From left: DVC and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize; Professor Sarah Bansilal; Dean and Head of the School of Education Professor Thabo Msibi and College Dean of Research Professor Pholoho Morojele.

‘The very low learning outcomes in mathematics are often cited as an impediment to sound economic growth in South Africa. Learning mathematics is a fragile process which is easily disrupted and requires special teaching skills,’ said Bansilal. ‘Besides the specialised teaching attention that a student needs, educational leadership is crucial in ensuring that students’ learning opportunities are prioritised.’

Bansilal believes that access to careers in mathematics and science will remain limited until the teaching of mathematics is drastically improved. She said that collaboration and learning from peers as well as the important role of the teacher are crucial issues.

The feedback that the teacher provides to a pupil during and after an assessment or test is essential for the child’s learning. Other essential ingredients are for the teacher to be an expert in mathematics and to be able to present concepts in different ways; two-way communication between learners and teachers; completion of curriculum; sequencing and choosing appropriate activities and breaking down a hard task into a simpler one.

Bansilal hopes her research will lead to improvements in the teaching and learning of mathematics and add to the body of knowledge on the pervasive problem of poor educational outcomes.

‘As a mathematics education researcher working in the particular context of KwaZulu-Natal, I need to extend my reach and move out of my comfort zone to work with other colleagues in interdisciplinary fields. This would enable powerful insights into the big problems that result in the low educational outcomes that we have been grappling with, such as systemic issues of school, district and departmental leadership,’ she said.

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