South Africa’s educational landscape, particularly in rural and under-resourced areas, has historically been marred by inequalities that persist today. Many schools grapple with a dearth of essential resources, a shortage of well-trained teachers, and less-than-ideal learning environments. Collectively, these challenges have culminated in significant underperformance in subjects like mathematics.
In a 2019 international assessment of fifth-grade learners’ mathematical proficiency, only 37% of South African learners scored a basic understanding of the subject. This weak foundation is evident in this year’s concerning Matric maths pass rate of 55%.
To help support and strengthen mathematics comprehension for learners in our community, we run a tablet-based maths tutoring programme (“iiTablet Tshomiz”) at four government schools and Bulungula College. Catering to 1350 learners from grades 1-12, this initiative provides an extra hour of maths tutoring each week per learner. iiTablet Tshomiz is embedded within the regular school system and gets dedicated time slots so that the programme runs in addition to the school maths lessons.
We run iiTT using the “teaching at the right level” (TaRL) approach in the classrooms. TaRL, according to the latest research, is the most effective way of consistently improving learning outcomes. Learners are grouped according to their understanding level, and young and energetic facilitators provide additional one-on-one help.
The programme focuses on the number of lessons completed per learner on Mathsbuddy and the efficiency rating achieved in those lessons (the number of times a learner attempts to pass a lesson). Our data shows that the programme improves mathematics outcomes of learners. But learners need time on the programme. That’s why we offer 56 weekly sessions for learners throughout their primary and secondary school years.
iiTablet Tshomiz is undergoing a randomised controlled trial (RCT) by an independent external evaluator to confirm our data. The baseline for the RCT was taken in 2022, and the follow-up results will be measured in 2024.
Miss Tyhali, the principal at Melibuwa SPS where iiTT is implemented, speaks highly of the programme’s influence. “Our learners really enjoy iiTT. They like it so much that they even show up for afternoon and holiday classes,” she shares. She believes that iiTablet Tshomiz has improved her learners’ comprehension of maths and has been a support to the teaching staff.
However, rolling out the programme is not without challenges, primarily due to network, connectivity, and electricity issues in our area. Additionally, adhering to school timetables can become problematic because many schools don’t maintain regular hours. However, if our efforts in response to these challenges are successful, we will have shown that our iiTT programme can be a model for mathematics catch-up in some of the most underserved schools in the country.