Professor Simon Mukwembi


Development of new programmes and modules

Poor pass rates in first year, first semester, first class tests (e.g., MATH130, 2012 - 21:07%; MATH130, 2013 - 25:99%) shows that it is conceivable that our students enter the University under-prepared. Through my discussions with teachers from Umlazi Comtec, where I once o ffered tutorials to learners in 2008, and my prior teaching of teachers, I learnt that most High School teachers have inadequate subject content which gives overwhelming support to the conjecture that our first year students are under-prepared.

One of the many challenges faced by the South African education system is the additional demands, mainly in terms of content, that has been brought about by the new mathematics and physical science curricula. The University of KwaZulu-Natal in partnership with the Northern Cape Department of Education and BHP Billiton, in an attempt to address this problem, has embarked on a five year project which supports and improves the knowledge and skills of 25 grade 10 - 12 teachers in the Northern Cape region. However, a large number of practicing teachers in South Africa, and in KwaZulu-Natal in particular, require improvement in their subject content knowledge. Being deeply concerned about this problem, the idea of introducing a short course and delivering it over one semester to o er teachers in KwaZulu-Natal learning opportunities directed at addressing this problem was mooted.

In line with my thinking that optimal solutions to problems arise through considering and tackling the root cause, I was heavily involved (with K.S. Govinder, B.G. Rodrigues, and H.L. Tarr) in the introduction of a new 13 week certificate programme, administered by our Extended Learning division, providing teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to teach mathematics from Grade 10-12 (Annexure 5A). For mathematics teachers, taking this short course, Introduction to Calculus, is adequate to address the lack of content problem. Currently, as Academic Leader: Mathematics, I have to drive and monitor its delivery.

This new programme is certainly in line with the vision and mission of our university. It is common knowledge that more than half of South Africa's mathematics and science educators are not quali fied to teach [Mail & Guardian, Teachers flunk maths, 3 October 2008]. According to a study using recent Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ III) dataset for South Africa, it was uncovered that mathematics teachers, and so let alone other educators, are battling with simple mathematics such as calculating percentages. The South African Democratic Teachers' Union reported a shocking pupil performance in mathematics in KwaZulu-Natal. For instance, in the fi rst quarter of 2009, 32000 of the 46000 pupils failed mathematics, obtaining marks between 0% and 39%. In this turmoil, some educators, such as the Western Cape-based mathematics teachers, have been appealing to the National Department of Education to suspend the format of the mathematics curriculum for grade 10 - 12 learners, citing the fact that educators are not adequately equipped to teach it.

When society is in such turmoil, it looks up to universities for solutions. This new programme is a critical engagement with society pitched at the right time to address these problems. The short course will undoubtedly promote access to learning that will expand educational opportunities, not only for the teachers, but also for the High School learners taught by these teachers. Thus, UKZN as a public institution will be supporting and contributing to national and regional development for the educational upliftment of our community through offering this certifi cate programme on a yearly basis.

From a different angle, with P. Pillay, we decided to provide free workshop support to teachers, in geometry, in the KwaZulu-Natal area. Geometry is a problematic topic for High School teachers and was recently made compulsory in the Grade 12 final examinations. We partnered with the Department of Education (Pine Town, Umbumbulu/Phumelela, and Ugu District) (see for example, Annexure 5B). Our class size varied from 16 teachers to 150 teachers. During each workshop, we identifi ed other areas of weaknesses in teachers so that we can run further workshops. These workshops have been welcomed by almost every teacher who attends. For instance, some of the comments we got from teachers are as follows:

Absolutely - I feel more con dent going into a classroom with the knowledge of what was covered in the workshops. The material together with the lecture will be very helpful to me in the classroom (Annexure 5C).

Within the university, I have also introduced the module Foundation Mathematics for Commerce. This has been necessitated by the poor under-preparedness of learners who enrol into our university. In particular, the Bachelor of Commerce in the College of Law and Management Studies, in 2014, enrolled students from dis- advantaged schools and/or communities who do not qualify for admission into their college on the grounds of their matriculation results, but who do have a matriculation certifi cate and are from schools classifi ed as quintiles 1-3 (as per the National Department of Basic Education rankings) into a foundation programme. There was therefore need to introduce a foundation mathematics module for commerce which provides students with the basic mathematical tools needed in all foundation modules for Bachelor of Commerce and prepares students for MATH134 (Quantitative Methods 1). I developed this module, MATH194: Foundation Mathematics for Commerce, which was approved by all the relevant committees within the university structures (Annexure 5D).

Last, but not least, I am directing the introduction of a short course, Supply Net- works for professionals, which is a certificate programme. The aim of this project is to \take graph theory to the people". I am leading this ongoing project which mainly targets professionals in the power/water supply industry, namely, ESKOM and Municipalities. The project aims at introducing and developing the fundamentals of the graph theory underpinnings of power/water distribution networks. This would inform professionals on all possible means, through a graph theoretic approach, to optimize present usage, as well as have more tools when planning for the power/water needs of future generations (Annexure 5E).

Contact Webmaster | View the Promotion of Access to Information Act | View our Privacy Policy
© University of KwaZulu-Natal: All Rights Reserved