– By Simon Tankard
(Evidence of Bridging Success in Fast Tracking Mathematics Pipeline from School to University Studies)
It is fair comment that large swathes of school leavers are denied further higher education access due to their failure to meet the minimum eligibility criteria for access to first year undergraduate degree studies across South Africa.
This abysmal state of affairs has nothing to do with the lack of potential of the youth of the country, but rather everything to do with the impoverished learning and support environment of the majority of Grade 10-12 school learners.
The significant growth of private education institutions and increase in learner numbers at these entities testify to the reality that public school grade 12 NSC learners have a 1:7 chance of access to universities, compared with a 1:4 chance from private institutions.
Demand for Higher Education
The exponential demand for access to university studies, underlined by the inability of NSFAS funding to keep pace with the financial need to support this, is only one side of the equation.
It has more recently been acknowledged that the supply of qualified academics to address the increasing demand is only now starting to be addressed in a structural way, for example by sponsoring ‘development academics to complete their doctorates and to focus on building their research, teaching and learning capabilities. The National Development Plan provides clear targets to achieve by 2030, and progress is indeed being made on both sides of the equation – however, not at the required speed or scale.
Evidence of a Solution
At the University of KwaZulu-Natal, an exciting initiative has been piloted, implemented and developed over a five year period, which involves putting grade 12 NSC graduates through an intensive Mathematics course equivalent to the entry level Maths level of proficiency requirement for first year degree studies.
Typical students on the Foundation Maths programme meet the entry criteria for University access, with the exception of Maths – having failed the subject at Grade 12 NSC level.
Comparing the results of the programme with the Maths results at Grade 12 provides evidence of a 30-40 % improvement and differential between the marks. Significantly, all extraneous variables are controlled, as the syllabus and design of the content are close to identical. The key differentiators are the level and quality of the learning experience.
Blended Learning Process
All students on the Foundation Maths course are provided with online access to a customised website with 24/7 user support when away from the classroom. Students are free to practice the concepts and content using an interactive methodology, which supports their learning in the classroom.
To support learning, a team of highly experienced Maths lecturers, together with tutors, working to a ratio of 1: 8 students, ensures that students gain a deep understanding of the content and processes involved. This level of mathematical reasoning cannot be intuitively gained, and requires a level of intensive learning and support as the need arises.
Some of the classes take place in computer laboratories, where learning is ‘hands on’. UKZN is so confident of the realized potential of the students who excel in the course and who gain more than 60% for the final examination, that more than 45% of the Foundation Maths graduates are offered places for first year undergraduate study at the University.
The need for quantitative acumen and abilities to address the critical shortages of key skills in SA has never been greater.
The Foundation Maths course custodian is the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science at UKZN. The University’s continuing education business, UKZN Extended Learning, offers and hosts the course, together with a specialist online Maths and e-learning provider with unique experience in this critical subject area.
After more successful courses run in 2018, UKZN Extended Learning has launched a pure online web-based Foundation Maths programme, which is gaining traction in the market. Other initiatives include a Maths programme aimed at upskilling teachers in the Education sector, and the implementation of a Foundation Physics programme, after the successful pilot which was run.
With clear evidence of the success and value of the programmes, the adoption and roll out within KZN and to other provinces in South Africa can’t come soon enough.
Supporting schools in the community is also a priority. In December 2016, 60 Grade 11 Learners from Hlahlindlela School in KZN attended a ‘Maths Insights’ programme hosted by UKZN Extended Learning at the School of Education, to learn more about the Grade 12 syllabus to be offered in 2017, thereby improving their chances of success next year. Similar initiatives are planned in 2019.
Any interested parties who wish to discuss possible avenues for involvement or partnership may call:
UKZN Extended Learning, Ms. Bianca Cochrane at tel: 00-27-31-2601234 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org