What do African schoolteachers think about mathematics?


George Bethell has put out a report via the World Bank, Mathematics Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: Status, Challenges, and Opportunities. It brings together an array of analysis on current mathematics performance and teaching around the continent.

I’d like to highlight two elements. First, a survey in 6 African countries shows teacher attitudes towards math. Now, it’s just 70 teachers per country (roughly 50 primary and 20 secondary), so this is suggestive only. Key findings: Almost all teachers agree that mathematical skills are useful for everyone (except in DRC). But between 24 percent and 62 percent of teachers don’t believe that “everyone has the potential to be good at mathematics,” depending on the country, and a majority of teachers in all countries except Cameroon believe that “you have to have the right sort of brain to be good at mathematics.” It’s easy to imagine that these kinds of beliefs then play into the way teachers teach. (You can read more about it in Appendix A of the report.) Of course, I also don’t know how different these are from other parts of the world. The point is not whether these 6 countries are worse or better than other countries, but that teachers in these country have these particular beliefs about math education which may well affect pedagogy.


The report also lays out what he sees as the big research questions that remain in this area.

  1. How can countries in SSA monitor trends in mathematical achievement?
  2. How do learners understand mathematical concepts as demonstrated by their teachers? How do they approach mathematical problems?
  3. How effective are the textbooks currently being used to teach basic mathematics in SSA?
  4. How can national assessments of student achievement in mathematics be improved so that they provide policy makers and teachers with the information needed to improve outcomes in mathematics?
  5. Where Open Educational Resources have been used as the basis of, or to supplement, formal teacher education development programmes, have they been effective?
  6. Which of the e-learning and m-learning technologies in the classroom have the greatest potential to raise levels of numeracy and mathematical competence? What are the challenges of introducing e- and m-learning technologies – especially in fragile states?

Calling all researchers! To work!



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