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Maths teachers struggling with English

Author: Corporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]

Published: 28/03/2018

Grade 4 to Grade 7 (Intermediate Phase) Maths teachers in under-resourced schools in the Eastern Cape are not proficient in English, the language they are supposed to teach in, and their knowledge of mathematic content is not up to scratch. 

This is one of the findings of a recent study at Stellenbosch University (SU).

“Maths teachers in the Intermediate Phase (IP) struggle to master English and this lack of competency compromises the quality of mathematics instruction," says Dr Lindiwe Tshuma a Research Fellow at SU and a Specialist in Primary Mathematics at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences Schools Enrichment Centre (AIMSSEC) in Muizenberg. 

“The data suggest that while some teachers make an effort to teach in English and promote learner discourse in the prescribed language of instruction, the practice was not consistent," she adds.

Tshuma, who recently obtained her doctorate in Curriculum Studies from SU, endeavoured to analyse the existing relationships between IP teachers' language competencies and mathematics instruction at primary schools in the Eastern Cape. She says her study was motivated by her work with IP mathematics teachers from under-resourced schools in the Eastern Cape.

“These teachers are often non-specialists and have to teach mathematics due to the shortage of specialist mathematics teachers at primary school level, more so in under-resourced school that cannot attract and retain better qualified teachers."

As part of her study, Tshuma used English Language Competency Assessments, Mathematics Word Problem Assessments, questionnaires, interviews and classroom observations. Both IP mathematics teachers and IP mathematics teacher educators from different universities in the country participated in the study.


She assessed the teachers' competency in English through the administration of standardised English Language Competency Assessments, piloted in five different universities in South Africa. These assessments checked teachers' comprehension of the language while the mathematics word problem assessment checked their application of the English language in solving mathematics word problems.

Tshuma says the study showed that a teacher's competency in English does indeed relate to the delivery of IP mathematics content to learners. 

“Teachers with a better mastery of the language of instruction are in a better position to explain new terms to their learners and to create language learning opportunities within mathematics content delivery."

“On the other hand, teachers with a poor mastery of the language of instruction are unable to effectively assist learners to perform basic reading and writing skills or to guide learners to explain mathematical concepts in their own words; skills through which the mathematical content is often assessed."

“The study highlights teacher competency in the language of instruction as one of the most significant predictors of mathematics performance; this is particularly significant since the country's indigenous languages are yet to be fully developed to support mathematics instruction."

Linguistically underprepared

Tshuma says teacher education institutions are not doing enough to linguistically prepare IP mathematics teachers well enough to use English meaningfully as a language of instruction.

“It is the duty of all university education departments as well as other teacher education institutions to develop and improve IP mathematics teachers' English language competence."

“One of the ways of improving the quality of IP mathematics education should include investing in  teachers' linguistic infrastructure right from initial teacher education curriculum through to  Continuing Professional Teacher Development programmes. Teachers alone cannot plug this gap in mathematics education; they need the support of teacher education institutions and other stakeholders in education."

“Teachers need to be equipped with the necessary skills on how to learn new content through language."

“Competence in English is necessary for teachers to engage in high quality mathematics instruction in English. However, it may not be sufficient. They also need content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and specific knowledge of how to teach mathematics to English learners."

Tshuma points out that only 1 out of the 10 sampled teacher educator institutions provided modules that focus on the use of English as language of instruction, but unfortunately the modules are provided at Master's level which the majority of teachers in under-resourced schools would not have attained by the time they are deployed to schools.

She adds that although English is a foreign language to the majority of the teachers who use it as language of instruction, the mere fact that our current Language in Education Policy requires them to use English in the classroom calls for high levels of proficiency in that language. The Minimum Requirements for Teacher Education Qualifications requires IP teachers to at least have Additional Language proficiency in English. 

“However, the answers provided by the teachers in the English language proficiency assessment as well as in the Mathematics word problems revealed grammatical and idiomatic errors and this study consequently infers that Additional Language proficiency in the medium of instruction is not good enough for an IP mathematics teacher."

Tshuma worries that if the status quo remains, poor teacher language competency and grasp of the mathematical content knowledge is likely to be passed on from the teachers to the learners. 

“We may want to ask who is failing the nation: are the teachers failing the learners or are the teacher educators failing the teachers who in turn fail the learners?"

“Without enshrining English at the expense of other official languages there is a need to cater for the English learners who are in the education system today and are supposed to be taught and assessed in English, as stipulated by the current education policy." 

Tshuma says she hopes her study will contribute significantly to the current debate on language use in education and stimulate awareness among developers of teacher education curriculum, so that teachers' mastery of the language of instruction is prioritised for the delivery of meaningful content in under-resourced classrooms. 

·         Main photo: Pixabay

·         Photo 1: Dr Lindiwe Tshuma in her office.


Dr Lindiwe Tshuma

Specialist in Primary Mathematics

AIMSSEC, Muizenberg

Tel: 0217879265


          ISSUED BY

Martin Viljoen

Manager: Media

Corporate Communication

Stellenbosch University

Tel: 021 808 4921

E-mail: ​

Afrikaans and Xhosa to showcase multilingualism

The Department of Curriculum Studies at the Education Faculty is very proud of a very special project at this year's SU Woordfees. According to the chair, prof Michael le Cordeur,  Afrikaans and Xhosa will show that they have lots in common and are able to work together in order to promote SU's aim of multilingualism. With a molo and a good morning, festival goers will not only see and hear these two languages in productions like Gif/Poison/Ityhefu but they will also hear about an exciting new project: the #Amagama Project.  

Festival goers will get the chance to learn 100 Xhosa words in 10 days – that is 10 words per day!

According to Jana Nel, production manager and part-time lecturer at the education department, the #Amagama Project is a very exciting new project. “It aims to cross language and cultural barriers to show mutual understanding and respect. When people can reach out to each other by being able to greet, ask how you are doing and saying good bye in each other's mother tongue, it already makes a very big difference."  Nel will be the guest in the RSG studio on Tuesday during the Lunch time program Spectrum.

There will be six #Amagama-stalls in die heart of the town. Twelve education students (Xhosa-speakers as well as Afrikaans-speakers with Xhosa as a main subject) will be ready to assist the festival goers to learn the new words and pronounce it correctly.  

“They will provide support with the pronunciation of the famous three clicks of the Xhosa language."

The students will wear blue t-shirts and will be stationed at the following places:

- Erfurthuis, Ryneveld Street 37

- At the shuttle service in Ryneveld Street

- H.B. Thom-theatre

- Conservatorium

- Bloekomhoek

- Plataan-café (behind the Sasol Art Museum) 

Would you like a head start?

Learn the following 10 isiXhosa words:

1. Molo/Molweni – greeting form (singular and plural)

2. Unjani?/Ninjani? – How are you? (singular and plural)

3. Ndiyaphila – I am well.

4. Manene namanenekazi – ladies and gentlemen

5. Mnandi – lekker / nice

6. Iphi indlu yangasese? – Where is the bathroom?

7. Umnyhadala - festival

8. Iplasi lewayini – wine farm

9. Amanzi - water

10. Imini emnandi – (Have a) nice / lekker day

Source: By Liani Jansen van Rensburg from SARIE:




Online dictionary promotes multilingualism​

Author: Corporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]​

Every year on 21 February, International Mother Language Day is celebrated to highlight, among others, the importance of linguistic diversity and multilingualism to help build sustainable societies.  As a multilingual institution, Stellenbosch University (SU) joins the rest of the world in these celebrations by leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that students from diverse language backgrounds are successful in their studies. Multilingualism also helps to broaden access to the US.

One of the ways in which multilingualism at SU is promoted is through the multilingual web-based subject dictionary MobiLex which helps students understand concepts used in their respective subjects. MobiLex explains subject terminology to students in Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa.

“With the MobiLex Project, emphasis is placed on multilingualism but at the same time on developing and expanding isiXhosa's vocabulary for use in schools and universities," says Dr Michele van der Merwe of SU's Department of Curriculum Studies and manager of the project.

MobiLex is currently being used in the Faculties of Education and Theology and will later be expanded to Economic and Management Sciences, Arts and Social Sciences and Natural Sciences. In 2017, the Department of Arts and Culture donated R1,52 million over three years to promote MobiLex in the Faculties of Education and Theology.

In the Faculty of Theology, current processes involve the development of concepts and definitions in Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa for all undergraduate theology modules, says Rev Nina Müller van Velden, co-ordinator of the MobiLex Project.

Dr Van der Merwe mentions that in the Faculty of Education, terminology for Intermediate and Senior Phase Mathematics Education has been added and concepts for Curriculum Studies have been included and updated. She adds that a new subject, Language Education, was drafted in Afrikaans, translated into English and has to be translated to isiXhosa.

“Students and lecturers in the Faculty are very excited about using MobiLex because it helps promote multilingualism in lectures."

Müller van Velden says they are delighted with the University Capacity Development Grant of the Department of Higher Education and Training that will enable the expansion of MobiLex to other faculties. This process started on 1 February 2018.

“The ultimate goal is for MobiLex to be used in all faculties."

Müller van Velden says a MobiLex App will be launched soon.

“Users will be able to easily navigate the subject dictionaries with ease on their smartphones and tablets without having to use any data after the initial download and installation."

The app will be updated from time to time, as further data is being developed, she adds.

In addition to the MobiLex Project, SU's Language Centre makes a valuable contribution to multilingualism by helping students to improve their language skills in isiXhosa, Engels and Afrikaans.

·         In September, SU will host a Language Day. More detail on this event will be made available later.​

Curriculum Studies honour Teachers on Teacher Day

Prof Maureen Robinson 


Sustainability Starts with Teachers

Sustainability Starts with Teachers is an international UNESCO flagship action-learning programme of the Global Action Plan on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), in partnership with the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA), Rhodes University and SWEDESD. The programme supports teacher educators from 60 Teacher Education Institutions (TEIs) in nine countries to work on ESD change projects to drive curriculum innovation and transformation of secondary teacher education towards sustainability. Dr Carina America was the nominated representative of the Faculty of Education at the workshop held at the Royal Swazi Sun in Swaziland from 17 – 21 July, together with teacher educators of Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland.

The action programme focuses predominantly on Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning for all" with the ultimate aim that teacher educators need to use their professional learning to improve the education of teachers. In turn, this will support teachers to integrate ESD in their teaching practice. The programme will be developed over five learning actions:  a) ESD policy, context and competencies review, b) sustainable development goals and critical issues relevant to secondary teacher education programmes, c) transformative learning, pedagogy and learning environments, d) design and try out alternative assessment methods for ESD, and e) monitoring evaluation and scaling for impact. The change project at the faculty will have an integrated, participatory approach, incorporating the discursive terrains of ESD within the various subject disciplines with an ongoing 'work-in-progress' as the programme unfolds. Lecturers who want to form part of this project can contact Carina America,

Photos at the workshop:​


America 2.jpg

#Amagama Project 2018 

The SU Woordfees is very excited to launch the first #Amagama Project 2018 with the Faculty of Education.

Improve your Xhosa! Come and learn a 100 Xhosa words over a period of 10 days with the SU Woordfees.

The #Amagama Project 2018 entails that B. Ed. students, along with Mrs. Jana Nel from the Faculty of Education, will assist everyone with learning 10 new Xhosa words every day over a period of 10 days. The students will be available at various stalls throughout the SU Woordfees and they will be eager and ready to assist with the pronunciation of certain words as well as practising the famous three clicks of the Xhosa language. Every day new, exciting and user-friendly words will be learned. By the end of the SU Woordfees time-frame everyone would have learned a 100 Xhosa words and will know how to form easy sentences in Xhosa.

Viva Amagama! ​

Language Policy promotes inclusive multilingualism at SU


Author: Korporatiewe Kommunikasie / Corporate Communication

Stellenbosch University (SU) has not turned its back on Afrikaans and remains committed to the use of this language together with English as languages of instruction in the context of inclusivity and multilingualism.

This was the message of SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers on Tuesday evening (19 September) during a discussion with the education community in Paarl. The event took place at Klein Nederburg Secondary and was attended by schools in the region and by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED). The topic was “Transformation and Language at SU".

Prof De Villiers pointed out that there are many positive developments at SU but that these are often overshadowed by negative mentions in the media. For example, SU is well placed on world rankings of top universities and maintains some of the highest rates of student success and research output in the country. Yet, in some circles, SU is erroneously depicted as a monolingual institution – no longer Afrikaans but now completely English.

“Let me say this very clearly – this is not true," Prof De Villiers stated.

In terms of the University's new Language Policy, which was approved by Council in June 2016 with the concurrence of Senate and implemented from this year, both English and Afrikaans are used as languages of instruction – the former so that nobody is excluded and the latter because there is still a great demand for teaching in this language.

A gradual shift in demographics and language distribution is taking place among SU students. In 2015, the University for the first time had more English-speaking (44%) than Afrikaans-speaking (42%) students.

Earlier this year, a survey among undergraduate students indicated that 61% of respondents preferred knowledge transfer in English. Some of them have no command of Afrikaans at all. However, this still leaves 39% of undergraduate students who prefer instruction in either Afrikaans or both Afrikaans and English, which amounts to nearly 8 000 students, Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, Vice-Rector for Learning and Teaching at SU, pointed out.

He explained that the new Language Policy makes provision for three language-of-instruction modes – parallel medium, double medium and single medium – and emphasised that Afrikaans is present in all three.

“We have a great appreciation for the value of language, but the focus of the University is pedagogical. We are not a language and culture organisation. For the University, language is a medium for learning and teaching," Prof Schoonwinkel said.

“The emphasis has shifted from language rights to language justice. The Constitution gives everyone the right to education in the language of their choice, as far as possible, but also requires correction of the kind of exclusion that has occurred in the past due to language of instruction. The Language Policy therefore follows an inclusive approach of multilingualism."

Members of the education community welcomed the information session.

“Any reasonable person can see that Afrikaans is not being abolished," Mr Danie van Wyk of the South African Educational Development Trust said about the SU Language Policy. “It is about accommodating everyone in the context of our shared South African identity."

“It makes a lot of sense. And I'm particularly impressed with the monitoring aspect of the policy – that there is oversight of implementation and that continuous adjustments are being made to ensure that it is applied correctly," Dr Fernholdt Galant of the WCED said.

·         The SU Language Policy is available on the University's homepage:

·         Click here for Prof De Villiers' address

·         Click here for Prof Schoonwinkel's presentation

CAPTION: From left, Mr Danie van Wyk, Western Cape Manager of the SA Education Development Trust, Mrs Mary Banda, Principal of Klein Nederburg Secondary, Prof Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Dr Fernholdt Galant and Mrs Linda Marais, Circuit Managers of the Western Cape Education Department in Wellington and Paarl respectively, and Prof Michael le Cordeur, Chair of the Departement of Curriculum Studies in SU's Faculty of Education.

Multilingual mobile dictionary help students master concepts​

mobile dictionary.jpg

Author: Corporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie​

New education students sometimes find it difficult to master concepts that are used in their courses. And because they do not understand concepts, they struggle with reading comprehension and to submit good written assignments.

"The development of concept literacy  ̶  the ability to read and understand subject-specific terminology  ̶  is a major challenge for many students," say Drs Carina America and Michele van der Merwe, two lecturers in the Department of Curriculum Studies at Stellenbosch University (SU).

America teaches Economics and Management Science subjects and Van der Merwe Afrikaans to education students. Van der Merwe is also a lexicographer i.e. someone who compiles dictionaries.

They joined forces to develop a multilingual cell phone dictionary that can help students understand concepts used in Economic and Management Sciences. This "subject dictionary", known as MobiLex, is written in such a way that students can easily access it from their mobile phones. The project came to fruition in collaboration with SU's Language Centre and the assistance of the Centre's Head: Advancement of isiXhosa, Pumlani M Sibula.

America says the dictionary is written specifically for students who want to teach Economics and Management Science subjects in schools. She adds that MobiLex explains concepts to students in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa.

MobiLex is currently available on the SU website and students can access it through their mobile phones and computers. According to Van der Merwe, the next challenge is to develop MobiLex into an app that students can download onto their mobile phones.

The concept of MobiLex was developed four years ago by their colleague Professor Christa van der Walt to specifically address the problem of concept literacy.

"MobiLex wants to help students gain easier access to the explanation of concepts."

"This is not just an ordinary dictionary; it is a subject dictionary that explains concepts in the way the lecturer would like them to be explained."

"The dictionary is designed in such a way that it can easily be used on a cellphone. It is also updated regularly," says Van der Merwe.

"If students sit in the class and have access to the internet, they can use their computers or phones to search MobiLex for the meaning of concepts that they do not understand."

America is of the view that if students know the meaning of a particular concept, it can improve their understanding of such a concept and develop their ability to read a specific text critically. It also helps them to write better assignments.

"MobiLex can thus be a source of support to improve students' writing and reading skills."

Van der Merwe points out that students are happy that they can use MobiLex on their mobile phones and in the classroom.

"Students say it also helps to use MobiLex outside the classroom especially if there are certain concepts that they did not fully understand during a lecture and could not look up in time."

Van der Merwe says that even though the dictionary is aimed at undergraduates, it has also been extended to senior students.

They point out that in addition to Economic and Management Sciences MobiLex have been used successfully in other subjects in the Faculty of Education namely Educational Psychology, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Curriculum Studies.

The two lecturers say they recently had visitors from Europe who were impressed with MobiLex. They add that teachers also asked when MobiLex would be available in schools.

Photo: Pixabay


Dr Carina America (EMS)

Department of Curriculum Studies

Faculty of Education

Stellenbosch University

Tel: 021 808 3793



Dr Michele van der Merwe (MobiLex)

Department of Curriculum Studies

Faculty of Education

Stellenbosch University

Tel: 021 808 2396


​Curriculum Studies Xhosa ​Cultural Day

March 2017 



CHAE hosts successful international conference

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Web-based trilingual dictionary on cellphone assists in improving academic literacy​
Author: Pia Nänny​

In an effort to provide language assistance to especially first-year students and in this way improving academic literacy, the Faculty of Education launched a web-based trilingual subject dictionary recently.  

The Mobilex dictionary offers students the opportunity to look for the definition of a word on their cellphone in any of three languages – Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa. The dictionary gives the word in all three languages as well as a short, subject-specific definition in the preferred language. 

This electronic trilingual dictionary currently provides translations for terms in Mathematics (foundation phase), Social Sciences and Curriculum Studies. 

According to Dr Michele van der Merwe of the Department of Curriculum Studies, who is heading the project, this dictionary is filling a void. There is no updated subject dictionary for education and the existing ones are not very accessible. 

Students can now, by pressing a few buttons, look for the definitions of words that they find difficulty to understand or that are unfamiliar to them. 

“The better your vocabulary the better your academic writing skills," says Dr Van der Merwe. 

The project was originally initiated by Prof Christa van der Walt of the Department of Curriculum Studies and has been supported by Prof Arend Carl, Vice Dean: Teaching in the Faculty of Education, as part of the faculty's plan to provide language assistance to students and in this way improve the first-year success rate. 

Dr Van der Merwe, in her capacity as lexicographer, took over the project. 

“We did research among students to determine what their needs are. Almost all of them said that they would want such a dictionary and mentioned for which subjects they want it." 

There are approximately 400 words in the glossary and it is still being updated. 

It was quite a process obtaining the terminology, says Dr Van der Merwe. They first had to identify the most important terms: For example, what students find difficult and what lecturers think the important terms are for students to know. 

“Furthermore it was a challenge to compile short, concise, simple definitions. We must remember students do not know these terms or how to use them." 

The reception of the Mobilex trilingual dictionary was very positive. 

“The feedback we've received is that it is user friendly and helpful. Students use it in class, while doing revision and while studying. Mother-tongue speakers of all three languages have indicated that they can use it." 

BEd 4 Afrikaans (Ed) Exhibition: Theory into Practice

BEd 2 Exhibition: Construction of Beginning Knowledge through Integrated LearningDr Michael Le Cordeur receives Chansellor's Award


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​André Brink: What a literary giant!

Woman's day, Atlantis, 7 August 2014


ATR-voors in gesprek met gasspreker (2).jpg

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​​Rachel's Angels pass with 100%

​​Freedom Day celebrations, Sunday 27 April 2014

Rachel's Angels.jpg Top­-performers of Media24 Rachel’s Angels ­mentoring programme was honored at a function in Franschhoek last Saturday night. This programme is a partnership between Media24, the WCED and Stellenbosch University and boasts a 100% pass rate in the past matric exam. The trustees aim to mentor, train and support learners from disadvantaged schools in order to gain access to tertiary studies. From left are trustee, Heindrich Wyngaard, media manager of the University of Stellenbosch Business School, Rolene Liebenberg, trustee of Rachel’s Angels Trust, the TV­presenter Elana Afrika-­Bredenkamp who acted as hostess, prof. Rachel Jafta, one of the founders and currently chairman of the project, dr. Michael le Cordeur, co-founder and vice-chairman, from the Faculty of Education at the University of Stellenbosch, Neil Jansen, trustee from Rachel’s Angels Trust, en Esmaré Weideman, executive chief at Media24. (Die Burger, Apr 12 2014, Page 6)

Vryheidsdagvieringe.jpg At the Western Cape government's Freedom Day celebrations on Sunday, April 27, 2014 in Cape Town, former president FW de Klerk acted as speaker. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was unable to attend the function, but his speech was read by Prof. Mtetwa (vice-chairman of the Artscape Board of Directors). At the event, Dr. Michael le Cordeur (Chairman – B.Ed-programme committee) and Marlene le Roux (Director of Artscape) handed a copy of their book '100 years of untold stories of the minstrels' to ex-President F.W. de Klerk. On the photo from left are: Marlene Le Roux, Dr. Michael le Cordeur, Prof. Mtetwa, Mr. FW De Klerk and Mr. Herman Bailey who handled the logistical work for the book.