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Having already reached over 4,500 students in the Western Cape alone, Living Maths is set to roll out a host of new schemes to change education throughout South Africa, and perhaps even the world at large. Speaking about the new initiatives, managing director Steve Sherman, says that Living Maths aims to see “just how far it can go” with new online technology.

Initially started in 1994, Living Maths’ primary function has been to give additional, extra-curricular maths and science classes and workshops to a range of different public and private school students. Sherman says that Living Maths’ enduring success in this field can be attributed to their emphasis on the need to “excite people about science and maths in an entertaining way”. This involves the use of games, interactive exercises and real life problem solving situations that often take students out of a normal classroom environment.

Great importance is also placed on making the material accessible and practically applicable for all. Roughly 60% of Living Maths’ work goes towards outreach projects in disadvantaged areas and schools. But looking ahead, Sherman is determined for Living Maths to keep “evolving with the times” and significantly extend its already sizeable sphere of positive influence.

Sherman spoke about one of Living Maths’ new developments at a recent TEDx talk in Cape Town (see video below). The idea centres on using internet technology (particularly Skype and Google Hangout) to interactively teach classes and students in different countries all over the world simultaneously. This not only enables a wider range of students to experience Sherman and his team’s unique style of teaching, it also helps these students directly learn from and form connections with people from other countries and cultures without having to leave their classroom. This could be a particularly relevant concept in South Africa, where many schools, particularly in rural areas, are often both geographically and socially isolated.  “The beauty is,” Sherman says, “that the internet is basically accessible to all. It’s a very powerful tool and we need to make more use of it in South Africa”.

Aside from this, Sherman also has plans to implement a nationwide examination for maths and science teachers in public schools. The teachers’ results would be kept private, and the idea is that if teachers fail this examination then Living Maths comes in to train them up and make sure they are up to scratch. Sherman would also like to incentivise good results in these exams by awarding schools with a computer for every one of their teachers who passes them. These computers could then, in turn, give more schools and more students the chance to be included in Living Maths interactive online classes.

Again, this would have particular implications for underprivileged schools. Because of poor pay and conditions, few teachers choose to teach in these schools, and principals are left having to select teachers from what Sherman calls the “bottom of the barrel”. Often unqualified, he says these teachers then end up “destroying the future of the kids they are teaching”.

The statistics certainly seem to support Sherman’s argument. Whilst the average mark for grade three and grade six maths exams is a meagre 30% nationwide, disadvantaged schools across the nation are in fact averaging at less than 5%, with some individual schools averaging at less than 1%.

For Sherman’s proposed national teacher examinations to have the desired effect, government support will be crucial. Although plans for the examination process are still in the preliminary phases, Sherman says he is “excited by where things are going, and the progress we can make in education”. In the meantime Sherman and Living Maths will keep doing what they do best, “spreading the joy of learning” ever further afield.

Image 1: Primary school principals in the South Peninsula talk to teachers around the world
Image 2: Two hour Skype maths workshop with Bridge House School in Franschoek
Image 3: Skype session with university students from Japan

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