2011-04-04Mathematics teachers are battling with simple issues such as calculating percentages, according to a study using the recent Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ III) dataset for South Africa.
Stellenbosch University professor of economics, Servaas van den Berg said: "What is evident is that math performance is not very good in the broader context of what one expects from primary level.
"Teachers are really struggling with issues such as calculating percentages.
"More than half of the teachers thought if the height of a fence is raised from 60cm to 75cm, it was a 15% increase," he said.
"It also shows that some math teachers have problems with relatively simple math problems."
The Grade 6 teachers were given similar tests to that of their pupils to gauge their subject knowledge.
"It is particularly worrying that teachers have gaps in their subject knowledge, but it appears that this does not have a huge effect on how children perform," he said.
According to the study, the impact of improved teacher knowledge on pupils' performance was "strikingly small.
"A 100 point increase in average Reading teacher scores leads to a 7.1 point increase in learner reading scores. This is extremely small.
"A similar rise of 100 points in average Maths teacher scores leads to an even smaller 4.7 points increase in student maths scores," it read.
"Better subject knowledge did not necessarily translate into better performance.
"Rather, pupils getting an opportunity to learn or teachers being present in the classroom improved pupil performance.
"It's even more important to have a well-functioning school," Van Den Berg said.
Government's newly introduced annual national assessments for grades 3, 6 and 9 was a step toward improving the situation.
The SACMEQ III survey provides the research community with new data on primary education in South Africa.