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Partners In Education


Epoch and Optima Trusts
Maths Challenge
In September 2007, the Trustees of the Epoch & Optima Trusts threw a challenge, the Independent Schools Maths Challenge, to over 160 secondary schools in South Africa to submit proposals on how to improve the quality of Mathematics amongst historically-disadvantaged learners in their own schools. We took up the cudgels and submitted a detailed proposal in 2008. Our proposal was one of the 40 accepted in the second tranche by the Trustees. We were awarded R420,000-00 by the Trustees for the 2009 academic year, and between R300,000-00 and R380,000-00 in ensuing years. What follows is a brief overview of our proposal.
The major Maths Challenge facing secondary schools in South Africa can be summed up in one word: TEACHERS. We need a highly trained, highly skilled and very innovative teaching corps of Maths teachers across the board – from Grade R to Grade 12. This dearth of good Mathematics teachers is the most important reason for secondary schools facing the low levels of numeracy of children when they leave primary school. It is very simple – children need to learn to love Maths, not to see it as a subject to be drilled into them and tested. Many learners say 'I don’t like Maths.' So how did this happen to them? The major challenge for the Maths teacher is to take the fear out of the subject, to open it up, to make it fun and perhaps most of all, make much of it more relevant.

Basic Maths is essential. Higher Maths is very desirable. But the all-important factor is enjoyment, delight in the subject. Which brings us back to the teachers - a highly trained and innovative Maths department is what to aim for. Furthermore, there should be basic Maths training for all members of staff, as Maths skills are being used across the curriculum, e.g. in the interpretation of tables in Geography, calculation of percentages, etc.
Our view is that we need qualified, skilled and motivated Maths teachers - who love the subject and let their enthusiasm rub off onto their charges. Technology can come in later - but without the skilled and enthusiastic teacher, technology is useless.
The Epoch & Optima Trusts Independent Schools Maths Challenge would offer at all levels an unrivalled opportunity for teachers and DoE Maths Subject Advisors, among others, to review teaching styles and embrace cultural change, and to make structural development the servant of that change rather than the master.
The upshot of this is that the Epoch & Optima Trusts Independent Schools Maths Challenge would give us the opportunity, at the beginning of each year, to have a vision for Mathematics where every pupil and teacher is engaged and challenged in learning flexible and transferable processes and skills, confident and competent to work independently or as part of a group with whatever technology is appropriate, eager to crack problems, and where assessment is primarily a tool for learning.
We have utilised the funding on technology (laptops, computers, SmartBoards, graphics tablets, scanners and data projectors), the latest Mathematics computer software, calculators and Maths sets for pupils, text books and other reference books, teaching aids and equipment, and salaries for additional teachers. We also have a tuition programme every weekend and during school vacations. In addition, and most importantly, there are workshops to improve the skills of teachers. We are hoping to improve the overall quality of Maths passes over the next few years with the funding received from the Epoch and Optima Trusts.
Thank you - Trustees of the Epoch Trusts and Optima Trust!
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