MathsGee kickstarts off flagship ISR program

Individual social responsibility is the country’s ultimate answer to the crisis in maths education

SOUTH AFRICA’s dismal performance at mathematics has perennially hogged news headlines. The average parent complains about the education system and how teachers are doing the bare minimum. The question is, what has the ordinary South African resident done about the crisis? At least one hour of maths community service is the answer.

MathsGee has just launched a maths question and answer community forum on to serve as a platform for interested individuals to assist learners who will be asking questions.

Not enough is being done to harness the mathematical knowledge that has been acquired by South African residents (citizens and non-citizens). There is a vast pool of individuals who have the capacity to complement government’s efforts in trying to redress past ills and providing the country with the much needed mathematically savvy graduates.

It is very easy to criticise from the sidelines without fully understanding the complexities associated with mathematics education in South Africa or playing an active part in the solution. So how can the country overcome the maths challenges and be competitive with the rest of the world? The key ingredient for success is a crowd-sourced mathematics knowledge and activity model driven by Individual Social Responsibility (ISR).

Individual Social Responsibility is a moral belief where we as individuals, have a responsibility toward society. Being “socially responsible” is about all individuals behaving ethically and sensitively towards social, economic, and environmental issues. It is about being accountable for our actions and being conscious of the impact your actions have on others, our communities, and the environment.

By taking an active participation in resolving some of the issues, we as individuals should all strive to set good examples by applying and adhering to socially responsible practices, such as improving the quality of lives for individuals and their families, volunteer energy and time towards improving and benefiting society.

Crowd-sourced mathematical activity is an example of a “social machine”, a new paradigm, identified by Berners-Lee, for viewing a combination of people and computers as a single problem-solving entity, and the subject of major international research endeavours. We outline a future research agenda for mathematics social machines, a combination of people, computers, and mathematical archives to create and apply mathematics, with the potential to change the way people do mathematics, and to transform the reach, pace, and impact of mathematics research. (Ursula Martin, Alison Pease, 2013)

ISR is a collection of voluntary (not work obligations) actions done by an individual to benefit an expanded sphere of influence beyond close relatives (family and friends). ISR is in fact the skeletal system of Corporate Social Responsibility.

South Africa leads all African countries with regards to investment in education from government, corporations and NGOs. Approximately 6% of GDP is directed towards education (World Bank, 2012). From a corporate social responsibility perspective, the country is doing exceptionally well but lacks the total commitment of individuals as entities of change. All individuals from all strata of society ought to take it upon themselves to be active participants in the South African maths project. Currently the prevalent behaviour of ordinary individuals is that of being a spectator with the expectation that the institutions will make the change on their behalf without them doing something about it. It does not take a mathematically literate person to contribute but just willpower and a definiteness of purpose from every individual.

In the South African context the crowd-sourced mathematical activity by individuals should not be limited to formal and informal research but should also include dissemination of positive mathematical information that demystifies the subject, voluntary tutoring of learners in communities, funds, services and material donations towards maths education. If the country adopts the “Feel it, it is here!” vibe as shown during the soccer World Cup in 2010 where everyone had a unity of purpose and was of one accord. Together mathematics can be tackled but the answer not only lies in government policy but the goodwill of ordinary citizens. There is no higher ideal than service to one’s country with an end-result of the development of fellow human beings.

For South Africa to successfully implement the National Development Plan, the onus lies on every individual to play his/her part. Mathematics education has a special role to play in the emancipation of South African people. This is the single subject that will increase the country’s global competitiveness thus leading to economic prosperity and will also afford a chance to many South African youths to meaningfully play a part in the economy. Without mathematics, government efforts like the Decade of the Artisan, launched by the Department of Higher Education (DHET) in January 2014 which seeks to churn out 30 000 artisans a year will not gain the anticipated momentum unless all South African residents take a stand to contribute to the mathematical success story.

In as much as the argument that government, foundations, NGOs and trusts’ efforts and interests in education represent the South African public’s investment holds true,  there has not been adequate intervention at individual level to solve the maths crisis.

Imagine the impact if all the accountants, investment bankers, actuaries, engineers, scientists, university students and any interested individuals in South Africa took at least an hour every month to teach a child from their community (not necessarily family). There will be seismic shift in the way maths is viewed if everyone deliberately and positively markets the subject to the youths, this is the only Mzansi can achieve a paradigm shift.

Government can play an active role in encouraging and supporting individuals who volunteer to be part of the “social machine” for mathematical improvement. Below are suggestions:

  • ISR points to individuals which will affect taxation, job prospects (one cannot hold office unless one has served certain hours – almost like individual BBBEE)
  • Public acknowledgement of the best implementers.
  • ISR points should contribute to a company’s overall BBBEE points.

In as much as the above suggestions seem farfetched it is paramount that discussions begin on how to fully encourage pro-social behaviour among individuals to combat the maths crisis in South Africa. This in the spirit of Ubuntu as publicised by Nelson Mandela will definitely lead to a successful maths strategy implementation for South Africa.

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