Moving to Successful Maths Pathways

An alternative approach to teaching mathematics.

Fatima Rahiman

Saide is working with universities in South Africa exploring how the use of data analytics can promote student success. The theme of the 2017 conference was “Driving student success by making our universities ‘student-ready’ as well as our students ‘university ready’. One of the keynote addresses was by Dr Bernadine Chuck Fong, Stanford University, and Prof Andre L Freeman of Capital Community College who presented an alternative approach to teaching mathematics. Fatima Rahiman reports.

Dr. Fong and Prof. Freeman’s keynote was entitled “Getting ideas into action – the Pathways Instructional system” (available on our Youtube channel). This alternative approach to teaching mathematics was developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching who set up a network of mathematics experts, designers, students and researchers to create a new system to increase student success in developmental mathematics. The project is known as the Carnegie Math Pathways and the two pathways are Statway (focusing on statistics, data analytics and causal reasoning) and Quantway (focusing on quantitative reasoning) which aim to accelerate students’ progress, reducing the time required to earn college credit by making use of engaging, relevant, and useful concepts that students can use in their daily lives.

In subsequent discussion between the keynote speakers and the audience, it was suggested that a South African working group be established to address issues raised at the conference and to consider how the pathways approach, successfully used in USA community colleges, could be implemented within our context. Saide offered to host a “Maths Pathways” workshop to start the conversation on how to improve the teaching of mathematics, especially in university ancillary courses, which often have high failure rates.

Mathematics specialists from various institutions including Durban University of Technology(DUT),  Nelson Mandela University, Sol Plaatje University, University of South Africa, University of the Witwatersrand, University of the Free State and Vaal University of Technology as well as members of the Universities South Africa's Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics were invited to participate.

Issues raised during the discussion included:

  • Exploration of current pure, applied and ancillary mathematics courses at South African institutions,
  • The applicability of the Carnegie Foundation pedagogical pathways courses for the South African context,
  • A wish for a deeper understanding of this approach in the teaching of mathematics,
  • Investigations of the high mathematical success rates in countries such as South Korea, China and Japan, and
  • Exploration of funding opportunities.

Suggestions for the way forward were:

  • Saide liaises with Universities South Africa, particularly the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics Community of practice, to formulate a national approach, which could include the development of a credit-bearing higher certificate-level course, or qualification possibly based on the DUT model currently under development.
  • A small working group will produce a proposal, after which ± five universities would be approached, together with the Carnegie Foundation.
  • The working group to approach the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) for funding to support the initiative.