University of Johannesburg (SOUTH AFRICA)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2015 Proceedings
Publication year: 2015
Pages: 5842-5851
ISBN: 978-84-608-2657-6
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 8th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 18-20 November, 2015
Location: Seville, Spain
As a possible consequence of Singapore’s excellent international test results, many schools are implementing the Singapore mathematics curriculum (SMC) in an attempt to improve learner achievement scores (Scher 2010). In the participating school, the SMC was also chosen based on its sustained high ranking on the Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) (Gonzales, Williams, Jocelyn, Roey, Kastberg & Brenwald, 2008). In this paper, when using the term “Singapore mathematics curriculum” we refer to the curriculum standards as outlined in the Singapore Primary Mathematics Syllabi; the teachers’ guides, textbooks and learner workbooks used in many schools in Singapore; and the manipulatives (used for concrete representation of mathematical concepts).

However, numerous studies (Ball & Cohen, 1996; Boote, 2006; Boucke, 2008; Christou, Eliophotou-Menon & Philippou, 2004; Gehrke, Knapp, & Sirotnik, 1992) argue that curriculum materials represent merely one of a large number of possible influences on curriculum implementation. These studies concur that various factors impact on what occurs in the classroom, such as teachers’ beliefs, knowledge, preferences, and their responses to what happens in the classroom; as well as the abilities of individual learners. Additionally, Remillard (2005) rightly asserts that it is possible for teachers to diligently follow a textbook without ever really capturing the spirit of the text and the epistemological assumptions inherent therein. Hence, teachers’ practices may not necessarily change in ways that are aligned to the goals of the particular curriculum.

This paper reports on the challenges faced by six Foundation phase teachers in South Africa implementing the Singapore mathematics curriculum that is premised on a problem solving and a constructivist approach. This study utilised qualitative interviews based on a general interview guide as described by Babbie and Mouton (2002); McAteer (2013); McMillan and Schumacher (1997); Rossman and Rallis (2012) and Terre Blanche et al. (2006). As recommended by Mason (2001), a flow chart of a possible interview structure was developed. The flow chart was based on several aspects pertaining to the implementation of the Singapore Mathematics Curriculum as well as the teachers’ classroom experiences and ways that they were supported and challenged; and on key ideas elicited from the literature study. The study found from interviews with the teachers (triangulated with data from lesson observations and subsequent debriefing sessions), that they struggled to implement a problem solving approach. We elaborate on their conceptions about problem solving and their reflections on their own shortcomings. This paper also highlights the challenges associated with implementing the SMC simultaneously in all grades, the challenges that learners with barriers to learning experienced with the SMC, and the challenge to sustain an ongoing professional development programme. This paper suggests possible intervention strategies for each of the challenges identified that could assist schools that are implementing the Singapore mathematics curriculum.
Singapore mathematics, curriculum, problem solving, teacher professional development.