Original Research - Special Collection: Mathematics

Studying dilemmas of mathematics teaching in Southern Africa

Fraser Gobede, Reidar Mosvold
African Journal of Teacher Education and Development | Vol 1, No 1 | a4 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajoted.v1i1.4 | © 2022 Fraser Gobede, Reidar Mosvold | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 01 July 2022 | Published: 06 October 2022

About the author(s)

Fraser Gobede, Department of Curriculum and Teaching Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi
Reidar Mosvold, Reidar Mosvold symbol Department of Education and Sports Science, Faculty of Arts and Education, University of Stavanger, Stavanger, Norway; Norwegian Centre for Mathematics Education, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway


Background: Learners in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are underperforming in important subjects such as mathematics, and research in these contexts tends to focus on the lack of resources, insufficient teacher knowledge or poor quality in teaching as explanatory factors. This study has taken a different approach.

Aim: The study aimed at exploring how analysis of dilemmas that teachers encounter in the work of teaching mathematics may provide a productive approach to studying mathematics teaching in the African context.

Setting: The study was conducted in a rural Malawian Grade 1 classroom, where a teacher was teaching arithmetical notation to young learners.

Methods: A case study approach was applied, and data were gathered through video observations and interviews. Inductive analysis of observation data was applied to identify and unpack dilemmas of mathematics teaching.

Results: Two inherent dilemmas of the complex work of teaching mathematics have been identified and discussed. One dilemma was to decide when and how to present arithmetical notations in different modalities without losing the mathematical meaning. A second dilemma was to decide how to deal with unexpected learner errors while maintaining the planned focus of the lesson.

Conclusion: Considering dilemmas of teaching shifts the emphasis from evaluating the teacher to understanding and developing shared understanding of teaching as professional practice.

Contribution: The suggested shift in focus acknowledges the challenges of the local context without reverting to deficit views, and it contributes to developing a shared professional language.


mathematics; teaching; arithmetical notation; early years; dilemmas; teacher education; Southern Africa; Malawi


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