“We cannot fix the poverty of the children but we can fix their education”.
These are the words of Sharanjeet Shan, and she continues “… especially their maths and science education”. Sharanjeet is National Executive Director of the Maths Centre for Professional Teachers. Her life’s focus is a determination to crush what she calls criminal inequalities in the provision of maths, science and technology education amongst children from disadvantaged communities. She sees children from previously disadvantaged communities who struggle with the realities and challenges of the real world on a daily basis. “Children need to have fun with mathematics. It is a friendly and essential tool that they will need in their daily lives and future careers in order to have a rich and successful life. It is a language of the mind, of thinking skills, and it gives you an edge in life.”
Maths Centre forms part of the Business Trust’s Quality Learning Project, the first school reform initiative in South Africa that takes as its primary focus the improvement of learning outcomes, which specifically aims to raise the performance of students in Grades 8-12 in 500 high schools by at least 10% in mathematics, and reading and writing.
Sharanjeet spent most of her adult life in the UK as a teacher, adviser and inspector, with a focus on Maths and Science. In 1995, she was invited to contribute to mathematics education developments in South Africa for a period of three years. She has since made South Africa her home and Maths Centre the key focus of the rest of her working life.
An innovative example of the lengths she and the centre go to make maths exciting, is the “Maths Kit from Africa”. This was officially launched in Cape Town in October last year, and is a maths pack designed and created in South Africa. The kit includes a range of colourful materials and was specially developed to make maths fun for children aged between seven and eleven. In South Africa, Old Mutual has already provided this pack to 263 rural schools, reflecting their desire as a financial organisation to see these particular skills developed in young people.
The pack was designed by Shan in 2001 when she saw the need to bring maths to life for primary school pupils. Explaining the rationale for the kit, she says: “Children need to concretise concepts through using materials that they can relate to. There wasn’t much at all when I arrived. Virtually all that disadvantaged learners had to use were stones and some cards, which obviously have their limitations.”
“We looked at the ethos of maths education globally and decided we would never give learners that we work with anything ‘cheap and cheerful’, but would create materials which were of excellent quality and would engage children in a range of different experiences. One kit can be used by about 10 to 15 children and helps them to transfer a concept they have been taught on paper into real life, so that they truly, truly enjoy, understand and use maths as a tool.”
A touching testimonial by 15 year old Phindile Mntwaphi of the Mlakalaka School in the Eastern Cape attests to the fact that the Maths Centre makes a difference: “I know that maths is cool and the right thing to do today. We have the right to go to school so that we learn and be who we want to be. I will continue to learn – let’s become a learning nation.”