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International Review of Social Sciences and Humanities
Vol. 3, No. 2 (2012), pp. 139-147 ISSN 2248-9010 (Online), ISSN 2250-0715 (Print)

The Constructivist Theory in Mathematics: The Case of Botswana Primary Schools Thenjiwe Emily Major (Corresponding Author) Department of Educational Foundations University of Botswana Private Bag- 00702, Gaborone Botswana- 00267 E-mail: Boitumelo Mangope Department of Educational Foundations University of Botswana Private Bag- 00702, Gaborone Botswana- 00267 E-mail: (Received: 13-10-11 / Accepted: 12-4-12)

Abstract This paper is based on a large research study that compared teacher quality and student performance in Southern Africa countries of Botswana and South Africa. In this paper we explore the extent to which the primary school teachers in Botswana use the constructivist approach in the teaching and learning of mathematics. Data was collected through classroom videotaping. Sixty out of the 64 mathematics teachers teaching at least one mathematics lesson, and more than one third of the teachers were videotaped twice. A total of 83 mathematics lessons were videotaped. The results of the study indicated that a large percentage of lessons observed required learners to simply recall rules, while a very small percentage of the lessons observed required learners to investigate or explore relationships between mathematical ideas. Keywords: Constructivism, mathematics, active learning, Botswana, passive learning.

Constructivism is a learning theory describing the process of knowledge construction. Knowledge construction is an active, rather than a passive process. Constructivists believe that knowledge should not be just deposited into the learners’ minds; instead it should be constructed by the learners through active involvement in the learning process. Hausfather (2001) noted that, Constructivism is not a method. It is a theory of knowledge and learning that should inform practice but not prescribe practice. By its very nature, constructivism emphasizes the

Thenjiwe Emily Major et al.


importance of the teaching context, student prior knowledge, and active interaction between the learner and the content to be learned. (p. 18). In the constructivist perspective, knowledge is constructed by the individual through his/her interactions with the environment. Unlike the traditional mode of learning whereby the teacher plays an active role in the teaching/learning environment, and learners passively receive the content, constructivists believe the learning should be centered on the learner. This has been acknowledged by Simon (1995) that “we construct our knowledge of our world from our perceptions and experiences, which are themselves mediated through our previous knowledge” (p. 115). When teachers believe that learners are empty vessels to be filled with the information from the authority, then teacher domination will always exist in the teaching learning environment. According to Freire (1970) the domination of the teacher is referred to as the ‘banking concept’ education. The banking concept sees the teacher as the only source of information. It is important that teachers should actively involve learners in their teaching to enable the students to construct knowledge. According to the Educational Broadcasting Corporation (2004) “ in the classroom teaching, constructivist view of learning can point towards a number of different teaching practices…it means encouraging students to use active techniques (experiments, real-world problem solving)” (p. 1). Kennedy (1997) also noted that “what students learn is greatly influenced by how they are taught” (p. 2). Mathematics by nature is a subject that requires learners to be fully engaged in order for learning to take place. Therefore, this paper explores the extent to which learners were given the opportunity to construct their own knowledge in the...
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