NWU Vaal Campus bridges the mathematical gap in 2015

Annette Willemse -- Fri, 03/06/2015 - 14:52

NWU Vaal Campus bridges the mathematical gap in 2015

The Faculty of Economic Sciences and Information Technology on the Vaal Triangle Campus (NWU Vaal) has successfully introduced an initiative to not only better school learners’ understanding of mathematics – and improve their overall performance in the subject, but also increase access into fields of study such as commerce and information technology. 

Mathematics and science education have long been a topic of debate and concern in South Africa. In 2014 the quality of South Africa’s maths and science education gave way to the country being scored the lowest out of 148 countries by the World Economic Forum.  Under the “skills” sub-category, the quality of SA’s maths and science education was ranked last – behind the likes of Haiti, Lesotho, Chad, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Kenya. This contributed towards South Africa’s education system featuring very low on the Global Information Technology Report (NRI) scale – in 146th place to be exact.

Having said this, and taking into consideration that 43% of South African grade five learners failed to reach the lowest international benchmark for mathematics, the faculty launched the Bridging the Mathematical Gap (BTMG) programme.

Director of the School of Information Technology, Ms Daleen Gerber The NWU Vaal is briding the mathematical
gap with great ease

The Bridging the Mathematical Gap (BTMG) programme aims to assist grade 12 learners to improve their maths performance and by doing so, allow them access to degree programmes that require a sound mathematical basis, such as BCom and BSc IT.  The syllabus of the programme covers not only basic mathematical concepts – which are taught from Grade 8 onwards, but also the application of these concepts in accordance with the outcomes specified in the grade 12 curriculum.  In short: an intensified foci on the entire mathematical spectrum that will serve as pre-knowledge for the mathematics modules in the BCom and BSc IT curriculums respectively.

According to Ms Daleen Gerber, Director of the School of Information Sciences and the subject head of Mathematics and Informatics on the Campus, a total of 33 learners enrolled for the BTMG programme in January and busied themselves with this curriculum for six hours a day for a two-week period. During this time they received intensive coaching – both in group settings and on an individual base, and wrote various class tests as well as two exam papers to ascertain their level of knowledge.

“The programme sets a minimum required pass rate of 50% for all participants, and I am pleased to say that the programme enjoyed a very good pass rate,” says Gerber. The biggest success of the programme is that it builds a bridge between the abstract nature of mathematics and the practical application thereof. In the instance of a degree programme such as BSc IT, mathematics represents the basis upon which all natural science subjects are founded, whereas in BCom programmes mathematics is used, for example, to calculate logarithms and exponential functions. “After the completion of the programme we had students who literally doubled their mark in mathematics,” says Gerber and indicate that one of the participating students received 42% for mathematics during the National Senior Certificate Exams and bettered her mark to 80% through the programme. This particular student is currently registered for a BCom degree in Financial Accounting – a course she would not have been able to gain access to, based on her grade 12 results. In total, 24 students enrolled at the Campus for the 2015 academic year.

The Executive Dean of the Faculty of Economic Sciences and Information Technology on the Campus, Prof Herman van der Merwe, emphasises the importance of an initiative such as the BTMG and says that by empowering learners to be mathematically competent and efficient, the Campus is pro-actively addressing the dire skills need of the country. “Mathematics is one of those subjects – along with science, that is very important to the economy and the further development of our country,” says Prof van der Merwe and adds that school learners who want to further their studies or want to work in sectors like engineering, natural sciences, information technology and medicine have to pass mathematics, science or both if they are to quality for further studies in these fields. “Our economy is in desperate need of doctors, engineers, architects, actuaries and information technology specialists, and I believe that through the equity of access – as driven by the BTMG programme, true equity of success can be achieved. “I believe that as a Campus we are heeding the call to address the current skills deficit and by doing so invest in the leaders and achievers of the future,” says Prof van der Merwe.

* The BTMG programme is offered in conjunction with the Centre for Continuing Professional Development (CCPD) on the Vaal Triangle Campus, and has been running for the past two years.