MATHS EDUCATION IN EASTERN CAPE: Cost-effective opportunity for business to support maths education

AUGUST 18, 2014

A cost-effective means for businesses in the Eastern Cape to support maths education from Grade 1 to Grade 12 has been created by the translation of over 950 maths lessons into isiXhosa by ClickMaths.

The lessons, which can be used individually or as a teaching aid in a classroom, are free to download or to view online. They can be followed using any device which has a browser.

“From the feedback we have received it seems that the only drawback is the lack of tablets, computers or bandwidth at schools in the Eastern Cape,” says Now Media publisher Dave Marsh. The specialist publishing house is supporting the ClickMaths project, which aims to translate maths lessons devised by the Khan Academy of America into the main local South African languages.

The lessons are also adapted to the South African curriculum.

“This is where the opportunity comes in for business. A large number of schools have computer labs which are under-utilised because they do not have Internet access. For a few hundred rand a month a company can have the school online.

“There is also inexpensive technology such as the Rasberry Pi, which can be used to download and store all the lessons. Learners would then access the lessons through a local network.

“This is a wallet-sized server designed in Britain for education and costs less than R800.  It holds the entire Khan Academy maths syllabus in both English and isiXhosa and can link to over 30 students in a class via Wi-Fi, without the need to be online.

“Schools without computers or tablets can be kitted out for 50 pupils at a time for less than R100 000. These contributions could all be included in the BBBEE scorecard of the business,” he says.

While the Khan courses are available in over 30 languages, it is the first time the lessons have been translated into an indigenous South African language.

A Cape-based organisation, Numeric, has matched the South African school syllabus with Khan Academy lessons.

This ground-breaking translation is the brainchild of two graduates from the University of Cape Town, Adrian Cox and Pratik Pokharel, who was raised in East London.

Adrian Cox is from Durban. 

The two formed a non-profit organisation called ClickMaths in 2012 in their undergraduate year with the belief that the best way to improve South Africa’s struggling mathematics education system is through the use of freely-available, open-source technology.

The two successfully tested the concept and then with the help of private backers took the project a step further with the help of a group of 20 isiXhosa-speaking students studying high-level mathematics.

The students translated the online Khan video lessons from English so that primary and secondary learners can learn mathematics in their home language.

Cox and Pokharel believe that the future of education involves a system where teachers spend less time on administrative tasks, such as preparing lessons and marking, and more time on the truly important aspects of learning. They also believe maths competency will improve dramatically if learned in a mother tongue as well as English.

ClickMaths isiXhosa incorporates Khan Academy video lessons, interactive assessments and advanced analytics. It is ideal for learners in and outside of the classroom to study at their own pace, according to former project manager Monique Baars. 

A teacher tool component allows teachers to monitor each student’s progress and adapts the learning experience to each individual.

In the classroom teachers can help learners by monitoring their progress and goals, create personalised recommendations about what to learn next and motivates them to master the skills they seek.

Baars, says the translations have changed the lives of many of the students who worked on the project.

It took almost nine months to complete the 950 videos.

The group initially started with three translators and then increased to 20.

“We were very specific about the kind of translator we needed. Someone who could speak isiXhosa; had a good understanding of English and was involved in University level maths.

We were also conscious of the fact that this would be a part time job, so we needed students who were driven, ambitious and passionate about maths.

“Finding the candidates was the easy part as almost all Xhosa speaking students could empathise with the language barrier issue and wanted to become involved to help their own communities and families. 

“Our interview and selection process was very stringent, but we found the desired number of translators easily,” she says.

Baars says the beauty of the project is that the translations can be done anywhere at any time and many students actually worked at night and during the weekend to complete the work.

All translations were then checked and put through a quality control check point with an experienced linguistic expert to check for pace, tone, language and accuracy.

Marsh confirmed that the long term vision of the project was to translate the syllabus into all the official languages. Clickmaths has already started on phase 2 of the project using mathematics undergraduates at the University of the Witwatersrand to translate the lessons into isiZulu.

Teachers and pupils who want to take advantage of this breakthrough can access it on

Photo Caption: MATHS LITERACY NEEDED... A cost-effective means for businesses in the Eastern Cape to support maths education from Grade 1 to Grade 12 has been created by the translation of over 950 maths lessons into isiXhosa by ClickMaths.