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Can improving teachers’ knowledge of mathematics lead to gains in learners’ attainment in mathematics?

Pournara, Craig; Pillay, Vasen; Hodgen, Jeremy; Adler, Jill


Craig Pournara

Vasen Pillay

Jeremy Hodgen

Jill Adler


It is wellknown that the majority of South African learners achieve extremely poorly in mathematics. Many claim that one of the causes of this poor attainment is teachers’ weak knowledge of mathematics, and propose that improving teachers’ mathematical knowledge would improve learner attainment. However, the evidence-base for this proposed solution is currently relatively weak. We report on a quasi-experimental study examining the learning gains of Grade 10 learners from five secondary schools in the Johannesburg area whose teachers participated in a year-long professional development course aimed at improving the teachers’ knowledge of mathematics for teaching. Statistical analyses of pre- and post-test results show that the intervention group of learners (N = 586) taught by teachers who had participated in the professional development (N = 14) outperformed a matched control group of learners (N = 217) taught by teachers in the same schools (N = 7). An effect size of =0.17 for the intervention group is equivalent to two months’ additional progress. While the learning gains are small, they are statistically significant. These findings provide empirical support for claims that attending to teachers’ mathematical knowledge can impact learners’ attainment. Suggestions are made regarding the form and substance of such professional development.


Pournara, C., Pillay, V., Hodgen, J., & Adler, J. (2015). Can improving teachers’ knowledge of mathematics lead to gains in learners’ attainment in mathematics?. South African Journal of Education, 35(3),

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Aug 1, 2015
Deposit Date Mar 30, 2016
Publicly Available Date Mar 30, 2016
Journal South African Journal of Education
Electronic ISSN 2076-3433
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 35
Issue 3
Keywords learning gains; mathematics teacher knowledge; professional development
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