May 2019, De Aar, Northern Cape
It may be common knowledge that South African learners are amongst the world’s lowest performers when it comes to maths and that as learners move through the senior phase of Grades 7 to 9, and mathematical operations become more abstract and complex, areas of weakness result in devastating dropout rates. This scenario, however, doesn’t seem to daunt a young maths coach, Leo-Patrick Mackay, who believes that learners are bright enough and have the potential to attain the necessary levels of aptitude, with a bit of extra one-on-one help.
Leo-Patrick took up the role of Maths Assistant at Kareeville Primary School in De Aar last year to work with Grade 6 learners, of which there are four classes of around 36 children each. He explains that the large classes mean that teachers aren’t able to give the necessary time and attention required by the children who have fallen behind. This is a vicious cycle as neither the learners nor the teachers are able to catch up.
This is where the De Aar Solar Power’s Numeracy Programme and specifically, Leo-Patrick comes in. He has been trained to help these children who aren’t able to keep up, by working with small groups but mostly individually, so that he has the opportunity to really make a difference and improve the learner’s fundamental understanding of maths.
His job may seem overwhelming to some, but he is passionate and dedicated, looking to the improvement in the learners to provide him with motivation and fulfilment. He believes in the impact that he is making and is truly inspired by having a purpose in life. “I didn’t know how much I would love being a maths coach until I started working with the children. The look on the children’s faces when they get their test results and they have made huge improvement, is the best feeling because I can see how proud they are of themselves,” says Leo-Patrick.
Kareeville Primary School has also implemented the Maths Clubs to further help learners as well as getting parents involved. “This as a great way to rally parental support and help improve support for the children at home; and our biggest uptake is when we run Maths Clubs competition, where we find the parents get the most involved,” added Leo-Patrick.
It is not only the learners at Kareeville Primary that are benefiting, but Leo-Patrick himself, who has gained a lot of self-confidence through being a Maths Coach. “I’m making a difference and this has brought about respect from within my community; even children from my neighbourhood, now come to me for help with their Maths homework,” he says.
De Aar Solar Power’s Numeracy Programme has been implemented in partnership with the Northern Cape Department of Education. The programme addresses key issues relating to foundation phase numeracy, which is supported by trained maths assistants as well as school maths clubs.
“Maths is such an important subject as it forms an important foundation for a child’s education and their future. You just can’t do without it, and I see my role as being there to help develop a good foundation, for today and to help them reach their fullest potential,” concluded Leo-Patrick Mackay.
The Grade 12 matric results in 2017 showed that 66% of learners wrote maths literacy (28 0000, while only 14 3000 wrote pure maths). But, this is not a solution for learners who wish to study towards becoming engineers or doctors or other professions that require a strong knowledge of maths. But experts say that all it boils down to is the gap created in the foundation year. This gap in maths mastery means that learners are unable to cope with the pure maths curriculum in Grades 10 – 12, unless they receive significant extra support.