The Language of Maths

The Language of Mathematics

A course to assist Mathematics teachers in helping learners to see that Mathematics is just another language


Jika Communication and Training welcomes you to this course, The Language of Mathematics.

This course is broken up as follows:

Participants will attend 2 contact sessions (Session 1 will be 2 days and Session 2 will be 1 day, with at least 3 weeks of experiential on-site learning and application of what was presented in the first contact session.

Session 1 (1 day)

Ice breaker activity and a focus on theory which will be presented in experiential mode: in other words, participants will first engage in an activity, reflect on it and then discover the essence of the activity on their own, in pairs or in groups.  Self-discovery is key to this course which not only guides learners through the content in activity-based methodologies, but also allows room for individual reflection which we feel is an invaluable dimension of embedded learning.

During session one, participants will after certain sections, complete activities in a separate workbook. The workbook will also include activities that have been planned for on-site (at school) application and reflection.  These tasks performed while the participant is at work, will inform the next training session.


Session 2 (1 day)

The “homework tasks” are discussed and the next part of the course is completed, with participants completing their continuous assessment and reflection activities.  This workbook is handed in and serves as part of the participants PDP.  Within 4 weeks, workbooks are returned to us and we send them to SACE points to be uploaded.


Welcome to a course that will truly realise its value if you engage directly and honestly with the nagging issue: what to do about the sorry state of South African Mathematics and Science?

Although numerous research studies have highlighted the cultural and linguistic issues embedded in Mathematics and Science learning and teaching, it is fair to say that very few courses like this one have been presented in South African schools.

Facing the reality by accepting challenges relating to Mathematics learning and teaching will assist in that teachers will be able to confront their own shortcomings, and help identify and teach towards filling the gaps in their own and their learners’ maths.

Fact is, you have decided to take on the challenge head on and you must be commended for your willingness to examine best practice closely and to reflect on less effective methodologies in order to improve the lives of your learners and to open up their eyes to the fascinating world of Maths.

Although we shall be venturing together on a journey to ascertain how to improve the standard of Maths in your school, most would agree that in a country like South Africa, the challenge of the language of learning and teaching is a major factor.

If we believe what Durkin says, there is no learning of Mathematics without language and/or communication:

“Mathematics education begins in language, it advances and stumbles because of language, and its outcomes are often assessed in language.” (Durkin, 1991)

Enjoy the journey, and be assured that you are in safe hands.

Table of contents

Session 1
The purpose of this course

Course breakdown

Unit 1: Where are we now? What do we do now?

  • Reports on the National Annual Assessments (the ANAs)
  • The Internal Quality Management System (IQMS) reports
  • The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2011 (PIRLS reports)
  • The Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) 2011
  • Activity 1
  • Summary of Unit 1

Unit 2: Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency and Basic Interpersonal Language Skills  

  • Activity 2
  • Basic interpersonal communication skills
  • Cognitive academic language proficiency
  • The maths Teacher as double expert
  • Summary of Unit 2

Unit 3: The Teacher’s Language Communication

  • Activity 3
  • Journal Entry

Unit 4:  The Learner’s Language Communication 

  • What promotes language acquisition?
  • Conclusion
  • Activity 4
  • Activity 5
  • Activity 6

Unit 5: The Teacher as Mediator of Solutions 

  • Plans to enhance Maths teaching and learning
  • Activity 7

Session 2


We are a country at an educational crossroads.  Although we have come a long way since 1994 and although schools are said to be equitable and education is free and fair, inequities exist, and not just socio-economically, but also educationally, in particular in the field of mathematics.

What are the problems? Why do our learners fare so poorly in mathematics both nationally and internationally?  Clearly there are many embedded challenges in our education system and in our teaching corps and the latest ANA, IQMS and NEEDU reports are relentless in pointing out the failings in South African schooling:

  • Most educators do not receive sufficient curriculum support (Department of Basic Education. (2012 – 2013). IQMS Annual Report. : 32)
  • Time management at schools needs work (National Education Evaluation & Development Unit (NEEDU) National Report 2013: 21)
  • Very little lesson observation for developmental purposes takes place (Department of Basic Education (2012 – 2013) IQMS Annual Report: 89)
  • Subject advisors do not visit schools regularly (Department of Basic Education (2012 – 2013) IQMS Annual Report: 77 – 81)


A study published by TIMSS, the DBE and the HSRC in 2015 gives insights into the problems facing South African learners of maths and science in particular.  Beyond Benchmarks. What twenty years of TIMSS data tell us about South African education provides chilling evidence about South African maths and science learners and the challenges they have to face daily:

Most of our learners have a very low Human Development Index (HDI) and a “higher HDI is related to higher levels of achievements in mathematics.” (2)

Most South African parents are poorly educated and “parental education has been shown consistently to have strong positive links with learner achievement.” (16)

“The negative effects of violent behaviour can manifest in many ways, including increased absenteeism, reduced participation in school activities and poor cognitive development (Kirk & Sampson 2011).  In 2011 alone, over 2.6 million children reported experiencing different forms of violence in schools, including sexual abuse and bullying (Martin 2014) and higher mathematics and science scores appeared to be related to safer school environments. Both in South Africa and internationally, learners who experienced regular bullying were among the weaker performers in both mathematics and science. (25-26)

Teachers lack commitment: Although mathematics and science teachers seemed to view themselves as confident or well prepared, there was a far more subdued response when it came to questions about career satisfaction. Only 45 per cent of learners attending no-fee public schools were taught by teachers who expressed satisfaction with their profession. (31)

Attendance is a serious problem: “Teacher and learner attendance have been identified as important factors for academic success (Gottfried 2009; Miller et al. 2014)” (23)