Professor Sarah Bansilal

Low achievement outcomes in mathematics: Issues of learning, teaching and Common Sense


The very low learning  outcomes in mathematics are often cited as an impediment to sound economic growth in the country. Learning mathematics is a fragile process which is easily disrupted and requires special teaching skills on the part of the teacher. However besides the specialized teaching attention that a student needs, it is the educational leadership skills that are crucial in ensuring that learning opportunities for students are prioritized. In this paper, I share some of the insights gained from my research about factors which act against the achievement of success in mathematics learning.



Curriculum Vitae


Sarah Bansilal is a professor of mathematics education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal  and has established herself as a prolific researcher with over 100 peer reviewed publications in the area of mathematics education.

Her work has focused largely on the teaching, learning and assessment of mathematics. Much of her work is influenced by APOS theory which asserts that a person’s conception of a particular mathematics concept evolves over time, provided certain opportunities are provided. Her work on APOS theory has been published in prestigious journals such as Educational Studies in Mathematics and the Journal of Mathematical Behaviour.

Her  work in the use of Rasch analysis has important implications for assessment at school level For example in one study with colleagues  Long and Debba, Rasch analysis was used to investigate the assessment rubrics used in a provincial Mathematical Literacy examination. The analysis identified problems with indiscriminate mark allocations, redundant marks, guessing, item dependence, and the method and accuracy mark allocation techniques. These and other inconsistencies in the marking rubrics result in a test that is unfair because the total scores do not reflect a consistent scale. Her work in the area of Mathematical literacy has been recognised by the International Commission of Mathematics Education (ICME) and she was appointed as the Chair of the Topic Study group : Mathematical Literacy for the 2020 ICME conference to be held in Shanghai, China.

University Appointments

2018 – Professor, UKZN

2014 – 2017  – Associate Professor, UKZN

2011- 2013 – Senior Lecturer, UKZN

2002 – 2010 – Lecturer, UKZN

Recent Honours and Awards

  • Merit award from UKZN for excellence in University Service (2009)
  • Best Teaching Team in the College of Humanities (2016)
  • Top 30 researcher in UKZN (2012)
  • Prolific researcher in School of Education(2014)
  • Top 30 researcher in UKZN (2014)
  • Prolific Researcher in School of Education (2015)
  • Top 30 researcher in UKZN ( 2015)
  • Top five researchers in College of Humanities (2015)
  • Top five researchers in School of Education (2015)
  • Top ten women researchers in College of Humanities (2017)
  • Top ten researchers in School of Education (2017)

Recent Publications

Bansilal, S. (2017) Teachers’ understanding of inflation: developing a

crystalline concept. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and technology,   48(1): 83-93  doi: 10.1080/0020739X.2016.1238517

Umugiraneza, O., Bansilal, S., & North, D. (2017). Exploring teachers’ practices in teaching Mathematics and Statistics in KwaZulu-Natal schools, South African Journal of Education, 37(2) Art. # 1306, 13 pages, doi: 10.15700/saje.v37n2a1306

Bansilal, S (2017) The difficulty level of a national assessment of Grade 9 mathematics: The case of five schools,  South African Journal of Childhood Education 7(1), a412. https:// v7i1.412  

Bansilal, S. (2017)  The application of the percentage change calculation in the context of inflation in Mathematical Literacy, Pythagoras, 38(1)

Kazunga, C & Bansilal, S (2017). Zimbabwean in-service mathematics teachers’ understanding of matrix operations. Journal of mathematical behavior, 47,  81–95

Bansilal, S; Brijlal, D & Trigueros, M. (2017) . An APOS study on pre-service teachers’ understanding of injections and surjections. Journal of mathematical behavior, 48: 22-37

Umugiraneza, O., Bansilal, S., & North, D. (2018). Exploring Teachers’ Descriptions of ‘Ways of Working with the Curriculum’ in Teaching Mathematics and Statistics. African Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education22(1), 70-80

Umugiraneza, O., Bansilal, S., & North, D. (2018). Examining Teachers’ perceptions about Improving the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics and Statistics. Statistics Education Research Journal , 17(2),239-254

Umugiraneza, O., Bansilal, S., & North, D. (2018).Exploring the use of technology in the teaching and learning of mathematics in KwaZulu-Natal schools

 Pythagoras 39(1),  https://doi. org/10.4102/pythagoras. v39i1.342

Umugiraneza, O., Bansilal, S., & North, D. (2018). Investigating teachers’ formulations of learning objectives and introductory approaches in teaching mathematics and statistics. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 49(8), 1148-1164  doi: 10.1080/0020739X.2018.1447150

Msomi, A & Bansilal, S ( 2018)  The experiences of first-year students in mathematics in using an e-learning platform at a university of technology,  South African Journal of Higher Education    32( 5), 124-139  doi: 10.20853/32-5-2507

Ubah, I.J.A. & Bansilal, S., 2018, ‘Pre-service primary Mathematics teachers’ understanding of fractions: An action–process–object– schema perspective’, South African Journal of Childhood Education 8(2), a539. Doi: 10.4102/ sajce.v8i2.539

Setoromo, M., Bansilal, S. & James, A., 2018, ‘Lesotho Grade R teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching numeracy’, South African Journal of Childhood Education 8(2), a585. doi:  10.4102/sajce. v8i2.585

Ubah, I.J.A. & Bansilal, S., 2018. Pre-service mathematics teachers’ knowledge of mathematics for teaching: quadratic functions, Problems of  Education, 76(6),  847-863

Kazunga, C & Bansilal, S (2018). Misconceptions about determinants. In S. Stewart, C. Andrews-Larson , A. Berman  & M. Zandieh (eds.), Challenges and Strategies in teaching Linear Algebra pp. 127-145, Springer: Dordrecht

https:// 10.1007/978-3-319-66811-6_6

 Mutambara, L & Bansilal, S. (2018) . Dealing with the abstraction of vector space concepts. In S. Stewart, C. Andrews-Larson , A. Berman  & M. Zandieh (eds.), Challenges and Strategies in teaching Linear Algebra pp. 147-173, Springer: Dordrecht

Pillay, E and Bansilal, S. (2019). Negotiating the demands of teaching Mathematical Literacy, Africa Education Review 16(3), 84-100 DOI: 10.1080/18146627.2017.1340807

Mutaramba, L & Bansilal, S. (2019). An Exploratory Study on the Understanding of the Vector Subspace Concept, AJRMSTE, 23(1), 14-26 

doi: 10.1080/18117295.2018.1564496

Bansilal,S,  C Long,C., &  A Juan, A. (2019) Lucky Guess? Applying Rasch Measurement Theory to Grade 5 South African Mathematics Achievement Data. Journal of applied measurement 20 (2), 206-220