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Some Factors Affecting Student Success in the areas of Mathematics and Physical Science

Mathematics and Science education are pivotal subjects for the progression of technology and innovation within any country. In South Africa we are currently in a crisis where student exit levels in these two subjects are often not of a high enough quality at grade 12 level. This is an area of great concern and has resulted that many parents taking an alternative route by sending their children for extra tuition. The downside is that for many parents extra tuition for their children is simply un-affordable.  So which factors affect our children’s’ results in these two extremely important subjects.


The New Curriculum

Over the past few years there has been a great drive to up the quality of content in mathematics and science. One of the forces behind this initiative was to ensure that upon leaving grade 12, learners have enough knowledge of concepts in these two areas to prepare them for the academic load at university. The principles around this were great, but did not take the limited educator / learner contact time into consideration. Educators now have a huge load of content to get through, which has resulted in other gremlins rearing their heads.


With the increase in content in the same available time, educators are forced to cover certain areas of work prior to assessments and examinations taking place. The knock-on affect of this is that teachers have to assume that the basics from past standards are in place. Success in mathematics and science depend on this solid foundation from earlier grades, unlike the situation with content heavy subjects such as history for example. Where this is not the case, and with the huge amount of content to cover, learners with a slight lack in the understanding of basic concepts are often left lagging behind. If not remedied early, it could result in the student being scared permanently in his or her understanding of the specific principle or concept.


Dedication of Educators

The successful delivery of the curriculum also depends on the educators being dedicated to their main purpose of teaching and preparing our children for the world out there. With the intense work rate required for successful curriculum delivery, educators who are not fully committed to their task also put this vital function in jeopardy. The content may not be covered in its entirety, or it can be completed such a manner that the quality of delivery is inferior. This kind of scenario also impacts on the delivery of teaching concepts which are essential for the understanding of future material to be covered. Ultimately this also impacts on student success at exit level examinations such as the grade 12 final examinations during October and November each year.


Teacher to Student Ratio

In many areas we also have over-crowding at schools. Simply there are not enough educators per number of children, resulting in an unacceptably high learner to educator ratio. This type of situation immediately nullifies any kind of individual attention that an educator might want to give, especially with the volume of content she or he needs to cover in any given academic year.


Unacceptable learner to teacher ratio does not end at making individual attention almost impossible. It also spills over in affecting the control a teacher might have in the class. With the increase in the number of learners, those who are less disciplined and interested have a greater opportunity for disrupting the class. This can be extremely debilitating to learners, especially when such disruptions are evident during periods in the class when important concepts and principles are being covered. The lack of educator control and increase in class disruptions may inevitably impact on student performance at the end of the year.


Change in Learning Style

Another important factor which influences the success of our learners is how the way they learn has changed. Although this is a topic for another time, it is worth mentioning a few thoughts in this regard. Over time society, including our learners, has become bombarded with information and technology. Children have become more and more prone to being intellectually stimulated in a multifaceted way. Educators are being forced to meet up to these expectations to ensure that every learner in the class is adequately stimulated. This is only possible if the educator is adaptable and willing to change his or her teaching style to meet the requirements of the modern day student. In days gone by mathematics was thought to be a subject requiring very little visual stimulation. All of this has changed and today there are even great tools available for educators to increase visual stimulation in both mathematics and science classes.


I have only uncovered a small piece of the iceberg here by mentioning a few factors influencing learner success in mathematics and science at our schools. What is required now is to return to the drawing board and to have a critical look at how these obstacles may be overcome. Educators should not only leave this to government or education departments to come up with solutions. Team work requiring all role-players at all levels is needed if we want to change this current situation we are experiencing.


Keith Williams

22 February 2018

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