Original Research

What mathematics do Grade 7 learners take to high school in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Craig Pournara, Lynn Bowie
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 13, No 1 | a1239 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v13i1.1239 | © 2023 Craig Pournara, Lynn Bowie | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 June 2022 | Published: 27 October 2023

About the author(s)

Craig Pournara, Division of Mathematics Education, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Lynn Bowie, Division of Mathematics Education, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; and Olico Maths Education, Johannesburg, South Africa


Background: Poor mathematics performance in South Africa is well known. The COVID-19 pandemic was expected to exacerbate the situation.

Aim: To investigate Grade 7 learners’ mathematical knowledge at the end of primary school and to compare mathematical performance of Grade 7 and 8 learners in the context of the pandemic.

Setting: Data were collected in term four of 2020 at 11 primary schools and five secondary schools. All schools drew learners from poor communities in Gauteng.

Methods: A multiple-choice test covering mathematical content from Grades 4–7 was designed and piloted. Learner performance was measured through number of correct responses. Qualitative error analyses were conducted on learners’ choices of distractors.

Results: The difference in performance of the two grade groups was not statistically significant. There were similar response patterns in learners’ choices of distractors with strong evidence of cue-based reasoning and evidence of additive reasoning in items requiring multiplicative reasoning.

Conclusion: Grade 8 learners made very small gains, likely due to reduced learning time. Learner errors show many similarities with the international literature and show that Grade 7 learners are not yet ready for algebra.

Contribution: The findings provide starting points for addressing the most common errors and highlight the need for: greater attention to whole and rational number concepts in Grade 8; strategies for teacher support in teaching primary maths content; and innovative teaching strategies to fast-track learning of this content.


diagnostic assessment; error analysis; whole number reasoning; rational number reasoning; multiplicative reasoning.


Total abstract views: 888
Total article views: 1024

Crossref Citations

No related citations found.