What does research tell us about teachers, teaching and learner performance in mathematics?

  • Learner performance in mathematics as a whole is at an unacceptably low level. However, both original research and research commissioned by CDE showed that Learner performance in mathematics is not strongly correlated with teacher qualifications or experience, nor with the learner-educator ratio.
  •  Mathematics learners in South Africa are increasingly being taught by teachers with plenty of teaching experience. More than 60% of the learners surveyed in the TIMSS 2011 study were taught by teachers with more than 10 years’ teaching experience.
  • However, the TIMSS study showed that there was no significant relationship between teaching experience and learner performance in mathematics.
  • Teacher quality is the most important component in the pursuit of improved learner performance, in mathematics and all other subjects. Yet the findings of this research challenge ‘common-sense’ ideas of what drives learner performance and calls for alternative explanations of variations in learner performance, in mathematics especially.
  • This research suggests that the standard education improvement strategies are unlikely to pay the dividends hoped for in South Africa, unless the other pervasive problems are addressed. Unless educators’ complacency, lack of key competencies and professionalism are tackled, decreasing class size, increasing learning and teaching resources, more school facilities or curriculum change will not produce higher learner achievement.