In celebration of International Day of Mathematics, which took place on 14 March, we spoke to Shepherd Chihwehwete, the Head of Department of the senior grades at Nokuphila Primary School in Thembisa, for his view on the importance of math, the barriers to this subject that The Love Trust and Nokuphila are overcoming and the extended support they offer for their alumni students.
As Chihwehwete points out, “mathematics is vital for the learners because it allows them to make sense of their world and build a solid foundation for success not only during their school years but at later stages in their lives. It is an important tool that helps them to develop their logical reasoning skills while dealing with practical challenges.” But even pre-pandemic, learners in South Africa have been underperforming in Maths with many researchers trying to understand why. Although there are a whole host of factors involved such as social and economic, public and learner perception of the subject, government reform, and so on, one of the biggest factors identified was access to good quality teaching of the subject. According to Zingiswa Jojo, a full professor in the department of Mathematics Education in the College of Education at UNISA, “The teaching of mathematics in South African schools has been pronounced to be among the worst in the world. Unacknowledged poor teaching of mathematics in a majority of public schools deprive many learners access to both higher education and modern, knowledge-intensive work skills.”
The Love Trust hopes to address these issues by providing the best quality education and support for their learners, both past and present, in core subjects such as mathematics. The welfare of their graduates is of great concern to The Love Trust as they don’t know the quality of the education they’ll receive outside of Nokuphila. Therefore, to help provide their alumni added support and aid, they are offering voluntary extra tuition for those in need and are busy planning further expansions to include grades 8 and 9 by 2023.
“In a recent survey undertaken by The Love Trust, to better understand our alumni and how they are faring when they leave the high standard of education and care of Nokuphila, Chihwehwete elaborates “we found that many have dropped out of school. That’s really worrying, considering their early schooling years and their potential. We, therefore, stepped up our voluntary offer to our alumni for extra tuition, especially in core subjects such as English home language, natural sciences, mathematics, and economic and management sciences.”
Teachers from grade four and up volunteer to “adopt” a learner who they help tutor beyond their term at Nokuphila and provide them with pastoral care and guidance. This they offer to all the learners they’ve successfully tracked.
Chihwehwete also says that thanks to the strong ties they have with the parents and the fact that learners often still have younger siblings attending Nokuphila, they still keep in touch and are up to date on their alumni’s performance. “We’ve also got WhatsApp groups containing our alumni, so we are always in the loop with what is happening in the lives of most of our alumni. In the adoption program, all the teachers who have adopted some of the alumni update one another as well.”
He believes other schools should adopt similar initiatives as it will help the learners when they leave school to inoculate them against that sense of isolation, loneliness, and abandonment: “It fosters strong social bonds between the learners the school, the community. That they have left does not mean to say that we are completely separated.”
Chihwehwete encourages the development of self-confidence in learners struggling with maths: “Don’t be shy to ask for assistance..” Lastly, he hopes the learners develop a positive attitude: “a negative attitude is like a flat tyre, you are not going to go anywhere unless you change it. And so, if they have a positive attitude towards mathematics and put in the effort is all that matters.” For Chihwehwete effort is more important than ability, as effort builds into ability.
When asked what message he had for volunteers, donors, and partners Chihwehwete quoted Helen Dyer, “Volunteerism is the voice of the people put into action. These actions shape and mould the present into a future of which we can all be proud.” For those that are interested in donating to and supporting this initiative he kindly asks that these go towards digital devices and data plans for their learners as well as helping cover some of the transport costs for learners as the extra tuition is provided on certain weekends at the school.
Visit the Love Trust website at www.lovetrust.co.za