Telling their side of the story: Malawian learners’ experience of early mathematics learning

Year: 2018

Author: Saka, Tionge

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The importance of learner participation in their learning has been documented by several researchers. The lack of involvement of young learners in constructing their learning environment may lead to lack of buy in on the changes that policy makers, school administrators and teachers may be making. Working in a social services context stresses that it is important to understand how the child perceives the situation. It is hypothesized that understanding how students perceive and react to their learning environments may be more useful than the analysis of the quality by outsiders. In most studies, early grade learners’ voices are however not taken into consideration when considering making improvements in their learning environment. The study from which this paper was drawn took a different stance, learners’ voices were considered to be very crucial and were therefore considered. The study aimed at investigating the culture of early grade mathematics classrooms in Malawi. As an ethnographically informed case study, several data collection methods were employed. Of particular importance to this paper are focus group discussions that were held with standard 1 learners from four primary schools in Malawi to find out how they experienced mathematics. The focus groups were held in presence of the learners’ teachers to ensure that the learners were comfortable in the presence of the ‘stranger’. Six learners (3 male and 3 female) from each of the four schools were purposively selected to participate in the study. What constitutes the results in this paper is a description of the mathematics learning activity from learners’ perspective based on the pre-determined categories and activity system analysis tool by Engestrom. The study reveals a lot about what happens in the learners’ mathematics classrooms and outside their classrooms as they get to school and back home. Some of the key findings include; learners who participated in the study seem to value the need for space as they are learning, they also seem to know what is supposed to happen in the classes for them to effectively learn as such they clearly pointed out that they would like to have their written exercises marked, and learners felt happy learning mathematics outside their classrooms. The paper also discusses significant implications of these findings on early mathematics learning in Malawi. Taking into consideration the views expressed by the learners may assist in making learners owning the learning environment and feeling valued because their voices have been heard.