The Learning Mentoring Project (LMP) was a pilot project, carried out in 3 project schools in 2011 and 2012. The goal was to support learners to improve their mathematics through an innovative mentorship model involving undergraduate students who served as role models for the learners.

Directed by Dr Femi Otulaja, the LMP aimed to create an informal context for mathematics learning with the structural functionalities of a second site of learning. Mentors developed working relationships with learners to resemble the support learners in middle class families typically have, such as role models in older siblings, parental support and assistance with homework. Mentors also challenged learners to think critically and creatively as mathematics problem solvers, and created a safe environment for discussing, encouraging and challenging learners’ academic ambitions.

As an intervention program, LMP sought to disrupt the tendency of learners in under-resourced township schools to depend solely on the teacher as the source of teaching and learning, and thus to challenge learners to do more independent work. The intention was to increase learners’ self-confidence in their mathematical abilities and to foster attitudes that lead to active participation in the classroom. To this end, the LMP was designed to encourage and support learners working on their mathematics, on their own, and with other learners, outside of class time, and particularly in working on homework tasks.

More than 30 mentors participated in the project. They were undergraduate students majoring in mathematics, from the Wits School of Education and the School of Computational and Applied Maths. Being from similar socioeconomic backgrounds and cultural histories, the mentors served as role models of success, and encouraged “can do” attitudes amongst their mentees. LMP also contributed to the development of a culture of volunteerism (giving back to their community) among university students.

An average of 120 Grade 9 and 10 learners participated in 18 Saturday-morning sessions in 2011, and an average of 160 Grade 9, 10 and 11 learners participated over 10 sessions in 2012. While the sample is too small for conclusive results, the patterns of performance were:

  • In 2 of the 3 schools, most learners improved their performance level over the year, moving from level 3 to level 4 in their overall results in mathematics
  • In the third school there was no improvement

Given our knowledge of the schools, these results indicate that a project like the LMP can enhance performance in schools where teaching is satisfactory but cannot compensate for poor teaching.

What the learners said:

You know some times we as stu­dents, we don’t real­ly study. This is our respon­si­bil­i­ty to real­ly study; but then, ever since I have start­ed in the Learn­er Men­tor­ing Pro­gramme, I have real­ized that it is my respon­si­bil­i­ty to real­ly study my books and real­ly see what I don’t under­stand. And it is my respon­si­bil­i­ty to go to my teacher and ask him or her what is it that I don’t real­ly get.

The expe­ri­ence at the men­tor­ing was very ben­e­fi­cial not only aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly but also men­tal­ly coz it has made me to not give up very eas­i­ly on my work espe­cial­ly, if I didn’t get to under­stand some­thing. Like the tutors help me to make sure that I don’t just give up eas­i­ly but to con­tin­ue, and con­tin­ue to try, to try until I get the answer, until I get to where I want to be. So, it has been a very great experience.

It has helped me to prac­tice every day because before I used to prac­tice but not that much. After we got the timetable, I will say today is the 20th and on the first of the month I am writ­ing; that’s when I am gonna start prac­tic­ing. But now I do it every day. I don’t even have a time table; but I come here every day 5 o’clock to prac­tice Maths and Physics and then Life Science.

They moti­vat­ed us. They told us how life is. They told us how beau­ti­ful learn­ing is and what great results being eager to learn, can actu­al­ly form; and those are the things that changed me.

What the mentors said

I vivid­ly remem­ber the first meet­ing; the men­tors were intro­duced to their mentees, we had a brief intro­duc­tion. There I learnt some­thing impor­tant — the need to be open and trans­par­ent, it gave me a chance to look more close­ly at myself, my issues, oppor­tu­ni­ties and what I want in life, and the mentees like wise. I am now an approach­able person. 

Learn­ers need to have trust in me and for them to have that I have to be hon­est with myself and them and be reli­able. I have devel­oped a pas­sion of work­ing with the learn­ers and that made me to com­mit myself in the pro­gram which is one of the skills that is need­ed in this pro­gram (com­mit­ment). When you have all these skills learn­ers get inspired and want to be like you, they see you as a role model.

I have 12 learn­ers in my group and we have named our group The Math’s Con­querors”. I have been giv­en a plat­form where­by I am open to the learn­ers in a way that I am not in this pro­gram as their nor­mal day-to-day teacher but as a friend, helper and most impor­tant­ly a math­e­mat­ics men­tor. I have come to know these learn­ers so well. This process of con­nect­ing with the learn­er makes the learn­ers more com­fort­able to ask me about any­thing espe­cial­ly the sub­ject of math­e­mat­ics with­out them feel­ing unintelligent.