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Maths 4 Stats 2013

Maths4Stats: Fixing the nation’s education by the numbers

Teachers from around the Western Cape attended the closing ceremony of the Maths4Stats training programme at the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) Library Auditorium on Saturday 18 May 2013. Participating educators were awarded certificates, presented with CDs and material to take to their schools, and also had the chance to face the luck of the draw, with a lottery determining who would receive a few spot prizes for their attendance.

The Maths4Stats programme saw 91 Mathematics and Mathematics Literacy educators from high schools in the Cape Town Metro (East, West and Central), Eden, MEED and the Winelands attending lectures during four Saturdays from March to May 2013. The programme was hosted by UWC’s Department of Statistics and Population Studies, in partnership with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) and Statistics South Africa (StatsSA), and is one of a series of initiatives created to ensure that the current school syllabus meets with international standards and is also relevant to contemporary conditions in South Africa.

A true partnership, training workshops were provided by statistics lecturers from UWC (Deputy Head of the Department of Statistics and Population Studies Prof Renette Blignaut,Prof Danelle Kotze, Mrs Retha Luus, Ms Ronell Lombard and Mr Abduraghiem Latief), StatsSA (Vanessa Wiener) and the University of Stellenbosch (Dr Morne Lamont). Lecture and discussion topics were based on the grades 10-12 Mathematics Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), and included basic probability data interpretation, regression and correlation, and the principles of data handling for grouped data.

In addition, UWC provided the venue, while travel costs and lunches were provided by the WCED, and Stats SA handled registration, attendance certificates, printing of material, and other administrative tasks.

Prof David Holgate, Head of the UWC’s Department of Mathematics and a pure mathematician (“for me, the word that comes to mind when I think of mathematics is ‘beautiful’”), delivered his congratulations and his appreciation of the Maths 4 Stats programme. “I think teaching is a fantastic profession, and for teachers willing to give up their Saturdays to enrich their education and the education of their learners, the least I can do is say thank you,” he said. “For science to fly, maths needs to fly - and for that, I thank you very much, and I’m glad to get the chance to meet you.”

Prof Mbulaheni Nthangeni, the Executive Manager: Human Capacity Building at StatsSA, briefly explored the origins of the Maths 4 Stats programme, and the need for such interventions. “We have notable skills shortages in South Africa,” he explained. “In our department, we talk about a statistical skills shortage, and a need for more people with analytical and analysis skills. We realised we didn’t have the necessary skills in our organisation to fix this need, and so we developed a skills development framework - starting at school level, then at tertiary level, then at StatsSA and the broader national government.”

Maths4Stats is one of the programmes within that framework, as is the Census@School campaign (where learners complete questionnaires regarding such matters as their height, weight and distance between home and school, and then perform analyses on the data), and university partnerships, bursaries and internship programmes.

Dr Gasant, Deputy Director: FET Curriculum of the WCED, who has many years of experience as a teacher but still sees himself as a lifelong learner, discussed how technology has transformed education (for example, e-textbooks, tablet computers and open education projects like the Khan Academy) and how educators need to be prepared to deal with that, as well as with changes in education methodology. “Teachers should be lifelong trainers, but also lifelong trainees,” he said. “That’s why this Maths 4 Stats partnership is so important. It works on the idea of training teachers all the time and helps make up for the changing curriculum.”

Prof Blignaut handed out certificates and prizes, and summed up the feelings of all participants: “Even though the involvement in the Maths 4 Stats initiative was hard work, it proved very rewarding to all. Perhaps only a small difference was made in the lives of educators, but it is hoped that the ripple effect will affect many learners in the years to come.”