This study investigates factors, which might be linked to poor performance of National Certificate (Vocational) Level 2 mathematics students at a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College in Tshwane. The main research question was: What are the possible factors that might be linked to poor performance of NC(V) Level 2 Mathematics students at a TVET College in Tshwane? In order to answer the primary question, the following sub-questions were formulated:
Which mathematics misconceptions and errors do these students have or make?
To what do students attribute their poor performance in mathematics?
What are the lecturers’ views on students’ performance?
This study is qualitative in nature. Data was collected through students’ examination scripts (12 students) to analyse misconceptions and errors in Algebra. The misconceptions and errors were categorised into false concepts; adding unlike terms; partial application of rules; ignoring rule restrictions and slips. Interviews with students (17 students) were used to investigate what students attribute their poor performance in mathematics to. Interviews with lecturers (five lecturers) examined what lecturers perceive as contributing to their students’ poor performance in mathematics. Factors that could be linked to poor performance in mathematics were revealed by both students and lecturers.
The findings of this study revealed that students fail NC(V) Level 2 mathematics because they have misconceptions. The misconceptions include false concepts, adding unlike terms and partial application of rules. False concepts and addition of unlike terms indicate lack of conceptual understanding. Partial application of rules shows that the student has insufficient knowledge required to solve the problem and therefore not difficult to correct as compared to false concepts and addition of unlike terms. The study also revealed that students struggle mostly with fractions, simultaneous equations and factorisation.
The interviews with students and lecturers revealed factors that could be linked to poor performance in mathematics, which were grouped as follows:
Student level factors: absenteeism; late coming; mathematical background; students blaming themselves; failure to do classwork or homework or assignments; negative attitude and fear towards mathematics; enrolling students who come from special schools; socio-economic status; lack of practice; peer pressure.
College level factors: teaching strategies; enrolment, which takes place until second term; students with different mathematical background in one class; un-verified entry qualifications.