For more than 40 years, primary school learners countrywide have been taking part in the annual NESTLÉ NESPRAY South African Mathematics Challenge (SAMC). The South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) became the organisers of the Challenge after the Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa (AMESA) approached the organisation in 2011 for assistance with the fast-growing competition.
Alwyn Olivier, a former lecturer from the University of Stellenbosch and Academic Coordinator of the SAMC, explains that “the Challenge is not at all intended as yet another academic test. The Challenge questions are aimed at conceptual knowledge, applying knowledge in new situations, problem-solving, reasoning, communication, and general mathematical thinking. We want the Challenge to help South Africans to become empowered, independent, creative, and critical thinkers. And we believe mathematics is accessible to all, not just the select few.”
Last year, Alwyn received long-service and honorary awards for his substantial contribution to the various SAMF Olympiad programmes at the institution’s annual Award Ceremony. His role is primarily to influence and support the SAMC Problem Committee members to design fit-for-purpose problems for the Challenge: the nature of the questions as problems and not merely exercises; the first round must be interesting and accessible to all, while the final found must separate the real mathematics talent from the rest. He is also actively involved in the facilitators’ training for the SAMF Teacher Problem-Solving Course that aims to develop and support mathematics teachers, so that teachers can, in turn, develop and support their learners in problem-solving so that they can successfully participate in the SAMC.
He continues explaining that the Challenge is not about competition or standards, but about participation. “We want learners to enjoy participating in the Challenge,” he says. “We recognise that learners may initially find the questions quite challenging – hence the name Mathematics Challenge! But the problems are not necessarily difficult – they merely address a different dimension of mathematics of which our learners in the traditional curriculum have minimal experience.”
Prof Kerstin Jordaan, the Executive Director at the SAMF, hopes that the 2021 Challenge will grow in participation numbers from last year. “We had close to 90000 primary learners who participated in the first round in 2020,” she says. “The Challenge happens over three rounds for primary school learners from Grade 4 to 7. Learners will write various the three rounds’ papers on 15 to 18 March, 26 May, and 29 July.”
In closing, Alwyn encourages mathematics teachers to register all Grade 4 to 7 learners at their school for this year’s Challenge. “Children’s learning in mathematics depends not only on cognitive factors like intelligence but also on their beliefs about the nature of mathematics, the nature of learning mathematics, and their self-concept. Preparation for the Challenge can and should be group class activities where teachers use the problems in past papers as extra fun problem-solving lessons.”
Registration for this year’s Challenge is open, and the closing date for the submission of entries is 12 February. For more information, contact Thabo Ramaboea via email at [email protected]