Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

The Impact of Computer and Mathematics Software Usage on Performance of School Leavers in the Western Cape Province of South Africa: A Comparative Analysis

Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

The Impact of Computer and Mathematics Software Usage on Performance of School Leavers in the Western Cape Province of South Africa: A Comparative Analysis

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The rationale for this research is twofold: on the one hand South Africa currently faces a crisis in mathematics education, which has seen it placed last1 in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (Howie 2001; Howie et al., 2000; Global competitiveness report 2013, Evan 2013). Despite improvements2 in the Senior Certificate3 results over the 19 year period since the first democratic elections, Chisholm (2004) indicates that the quality of primary education remains poor in South Africa, especially in under-resourced schools, where grade 6 students, for example, perform 3 years below grade level (Taylor, Muller and Vinjevold 2003). Recent research (Evans, 2013) indicates that South Africa is ranked second last in the world in terms of mathematics and science proficiency. In a bid to address this problem and build technological capacity in the country, especially in disadvantaged schools, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has committed itself to the integration of computer technology into schools under the Khanya project initiative. The introduction of computer software to improve mathematical performance is informed by a well-established relationship between learning outcomes and learning resources (Schollar 2001). The assumption underlying the implementation of computer-based technology, such as mathematics software, into schools in South Africa is that the technology will help to develop autonomous learners, who are both mathematically and technologically literate and, in doing so, will help to bridge the digital divide that continues to grow in South Africa (Department of Education 1996; 2000). While there are some studies (Howell and Lundall 1997, 2002; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 2003; Howie, Muller and Paterson 2005; Hardman 2008) that investigate the implementation of computers into schools in South Africa and while the South African Institute for Distance Education (SAIDE) (2004) research uses case study methodology, an extensive4 review of the research in the field in South Africa has not revealed any comprehensive case studies that investigate the impact of computers on Senior Certificate results. What is disturbing is that international benchmarking, in the form of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), shows that South African pupils are way below their peers internationally when it comes to Mathematics (and, indeed, Science).

A further indicator that all is not well in the sphere of Mathematical education in South Africa is the ongoing poor Matric5 Mathematics enrolment and results. The first issue is the very low number of pupils that chose Mathematics as a subject in the Grade 10-12 band under the previous curriculum, where it was optional (all pupils in Grades 10-12 now have to take either Mathematics or Maths Literacy). For example, in 2007 only 61.5% of enrolled Matrics chose Mathematics as a subject (Department of Education 2009). The second issue is the number of pupils that passed Mathematics at Matric Level: in 2007 less than a third (32.5%) of all Matric pupils gained a pass in Mathematics at some level, with only 4.5% passing at Higher Grade level; the level accepted by universities as sufficient for study in the science or technology fields (Department of Education 2009).

Various attempts have been made by governmental and non-governmental departments and organisations to ameliorate this alarming situation. In particular, with reference to this article, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) established the Khanya Project in April 2001 "to determine the contribution that technology could make towards addressing the increasing shortage of educator capacity in schools. With many skilled educators leaving the profession, fewer ones entering it, and AIDS already starting to take a significant toll amongst educators, it was necessary to explore alternatives. One of these alternatives is to use technology, already being used extensively in other disciplines, as an aid to augment teaching capacity" (van Wyk 2002 p. …

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