Secondary School Students and their Experiences of Using Mathematics Textbooks

Academic Paper, 2021

12 Pages




Background information

Milestones in facilitating learners use of textbooks in Zambia


Findings and discussion



Mathematics textbooks are considered to be one of the most important tools in the context of teaching and learning Mathematics. This is partly because they have potential to stimulate learning. Banda and Baba (2013) argue that textbooks positively contribute to and or influence simulation of learning. It is also partly because most if not all the content of mathematics lessons are drawn from mathematics textbooks and majority of the learners’ individual or group work, whether it be class work or homework is obtained from the Mathematics textbooks. While there have been studies such as Banda & Baba (2013) and Msoni (2013) in Zambia examining Mathematics textbook content and its use by teachers and the use of mathematics textbooks by teachers, there is a dearth of research into the actual use of mathematics textbooks by learners and their views and experiences of using the textbooks. This study investigates Secondary school mathematics learners’ views and experiences of using Mathematics textbooks. It also explores what lessons can be learnt about the Mathematics textbooks and learners.

This paper has four sections. The first section, discusses the background information about this study. This includes learners’ use of mathematics textbooks and the milestones attained with respect to use of textbooks in Zambia. The methodology used for the study is presented in the second section. The third section deals with the findings and discussion of findings linked to learners’ views and experiences of using Mathematics textbooks and lessons that can be learnt about Mathematics textbooks and learners. The conclusion is in the last section.

Background information

Value of textbooks

Mathematics textbooks are usually used as the main source of information for both teachers and learners for teaching and or learning. Johansson (2006) and Pepin & Haggaty (2001) for instance state that teachers decide what content to present and the instructional strategies to use to present the chosen content with reference to textbooks-whether it be pupils textbook or a teachers’ guide. Textbooks therefore support teachers when preparing (for) mathematics instruction. They can be considered a convenient source of information for lesson planning and preparation. This includes them being used as sources of information or ideas for introducing a lesson, for examples and exercises to be given to learners and conclusion ideas (Pepin & Haggaty (2001). They also have potential to promote and support teachers’ learning (Davis & Krajcik, 2005) even though the extent to which this is the case may remain to be established.

Similarly, as with the teachers though maybe at different levels, textbooks can promote teaching and learning among learners. This could be the case where learners use the textbook for peer to peer teaching and learning. In the absence of a teacher and or fellow learners an individual learner can use a Mathematics textbook to instruct him/herself in the classroom or for home study. In addition, learners can also use textbooks to interact and socialise with fellow learners and with the teacher too. In fact, Kalmus (2007: 469) argues that textbooks can be considered ‘important socialisers’. Textbook content can give learners, their peers and teacher a focus of discussion. How well learners use their Mathematics textbooks such as for the highlighted purposes may vary and remains to be established per giveneducational context. In fact, whether they use them at all and or how they use them may depend on several factors such as their beliefs or perceptions of the textbooks and their role in the teaching/learning process or whether they actually know how (well) to use the textbooks or not. This study investigates Secondary school mathematics learners’ views and experiences of using Mathematics textbooks. In the process it also explores what lessons can be learnt about the Mathematics textbooks and learners.

Milestones in facilitating learners use of textbooks in Zambia

Milestones regarding textbooks and textbook use, in the Zambian context, worth acknowledging at this are ones that point to the acknowledgement of the Zambian government of the importance of textbook in supporting quality teaching and learning.

To start with, the Ministry of Education, now split into Ministry of General Education and Ministry of Higher Education has risen to address the concerns raised that teaching and teaching/learning tools such as textbooks were not responding to the needs of the society. There has therefore been attempts in some of the mathematics textbooks to relate examples and exercises therein to real life situations. This is in accordance with MOE (2013) demands as expressed in the 2013 Zambia’s Curriculum framework. It states that using the Outcomes‐Based Education an approach to learning adopted by the Ministry of Education there should be a link between education and learners’ real life experiences. Accordingly, learners are to be given practical experiences during the teaching and learning processes that would help them gain life skills. This implies that textbooks which are one of the important learning tools in schools should also have to give learners opportunities for similar practical experiences.

In order not to compromise on the quality of teaching and learning, the government of the Republic of Zambia through the Seventh National Development Plan (SNDP 2017-2021) has put the development, procurement and supply of teaching and learning materials (including textbooks and Information and Communication Technologies -ICTs) as one of the priority areas (GRZ, 2017). As such the Ministry of Education through Zambia’s Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) has been ensuring compliance of book content with the National Education Curriculum and syllabi in various subject areas. Therefore, before textbooks go into schools they are evaluated by the same system that has been put in place. With this, learners can be assured of accessing and working with correct mathematics content as depicted in the curriculum. Without using textbooks, skills, concepts, and content required by the curriculum cannot be delivered. Oates’s (2014) argument in the case of England applies here too. He argues that the use of high quality textbooks is key to ensuring schools teach the National Curriculum content to a standard that matches the education systems of the country. He argues that ‘…it is the textbooks that provide the detailed knowledge implicit in the national curriculum programmes’ (Oates 2014: 2). By evaluating and approving textbooks the Ministry is working toward ensuring that the knowledge skills, and values intended for learners in the curriculum are delivered in schools.

Therefore, it can be stated that efforts are being directed at ensuring that high-quality cost effective textbooks are produced, distributed and accessed by the intended users.

The Government of the republic of Zambia is also working towards increasing investment in ICT and ICT infrastructure and increasing the public’s accessibility to internet services. If this is the case, why then engage with textbooks when we are clearly in the digital era and the future appears to be digital? Oates’ (2014: 5) argument can be presented here ‘The move to on-line materials is of course a significant matter. But it would be naïve to ignore the way in which existing carefully-designed textbooks have played a crucial role in improving educational outcomes in key nations, and remain a vital part of maintaining quality…’ learning within those nations. Textbooks and ICTs and online instructional resources each have their own significant role to play in ensuring learners learn effectively. Therefore, it is argued here that Zambia’s increased investment in the development, procurement and supply of teaching and learning materials which includes textbooks and ICTs is not misplaced.

It can be stated here that milestones present opportunities and in some cases challenges too in the context of readership and usage of textbooks. The above-mentioned efforts do not come without challenges, but they for sure give a sense of leadership in the provision of and furthering and supporting readership and effective use of quality textbook which have potential to support and promote teaching and learning among teachers as well as learners. The efforts and investment such as mentioned above, directed toward improved quality of textbooks and increased access to textbooks are an indication that government is committed to ensuring that (Mathematics) textbooks and content are relevant and easily accessible. While such efforts are appreciated and hailed it remains imperative to investigate Secondary school mathematics learners’ views and experiences of using Mathematics textbooks which is the focus of this study. It is hoped that with this investigation imperative lessons to positively enhance the nexus between mathematics textbooks and learners would be learnt.


A total of ten (10) purposively selected secondary school Mathematics learners, from one secondary school in Kabwe district of the Central Province of Zambia, participated in this case study research. These learners were in Grade 12, their last year of secondary school education and had access to and chances of using Mathematics textbooks throughout their secondary education time. The learners’ views and experiences of using Mathematics textbooks were ascertained by means of two data collection methods: face-to-face interviews and review of documents as a follow up to learners’ shared views and experiences. The documents reviewed were the two Grade 12 Mathematics textbooks that were readily available and which the learners had easy access to at the time. Thematic( content) analysis for the qualitative data collected through both interviews and document review was done. This led to the identification of themes relevant to the study as presented in the next section.

Findings and discussion

In this section the results of the investigation of learners’ views and experiences in the use of Mathematics textbooks are presented and discussed.

Learners’ views and experiences of using Mathematics textbooks: Role of a Mathematics textbook

The results show that books have a significant role to play in teaching/learning and broadening learners’ knowledge base in Mathematics. This role still stands out even in the face of new and emerging technologies in this digital era. An example of learners’ comments to this effect include the following:

…it is my ‘bible’…it teachers me by giving me the examples, it kind of marks and corrects my work by showing me the answers to the questions…

It is makes me have more questions to solve…the teacher sometimes doesn’t do that most of the time…

…I can use my mathematics textbook for learning even when I don’t have a phone or a computer…

…my friends boast that they can use the soft copy of the same textbook on their smart phones. That is fine, it is very smart, but not all of us have smart phones. Besides the smart phone does not just display textbook information the same way as a physical hard copy of textbook because of its size…

…Amapaper kulachitafye flip ukwabula ubwafya (‘you can be flipping the textbook pages without any difficulties’-direct translation) and keep teaching yourself or your friends…but tetichanguke ngefyo nga nipali computer nangu phone (it may not be that easy on a computer or phone-direct translation)…

A textbook is my teacher…especially the one with answers

…A textbook is a teacher palwaiko nayena (a textbook is a teacher in its own right) whether the teacher him/herself is around or not…

The above confirms the point that a Mathematics textbook plays a significant role in supporting learners’ learning. It was and still is considered as one of the most important tools in the teaching/learning context (Rezat, 2009) and this outstanding role has not been affected by new technologies (Howson, 1995: Oates, 2014: Rezat, 2009).

Learners’ views and experiences of using Mathematics textbooks: Proposals for adding value to the Mathematics textbook

Despite acknowledging the importance of role of text books in teaching and learning, there is still more that needs to be done to ensure that the nexus needed between Mathematics textbooks and learners is created, strengthened and sustained and the role of books in facilitating learning further enhanced. One learner had this to say to this effect:

…actual (Mathematics)textbooks are very important to me just as they are and I think no one can change that…But maybe what can change are just some things about the textbooks…

Inclusion of Pictures and images

Learners’ responses show that pictures be included in their Mathematics textbooks. They had this to say:

Ine mbona kwati amapictures Kuti fyalenga ukwelenganya kwakulilako ( I think that pictures can enhance your ability to visualise)

…I think they make it easy for us to be relating the mathematics we are learning in class to real things out there…

It can be easy to easy to think about other mathematics or mathematics ideas that can apply to what could be in the picture…and it just relates mathematics to things we see in our outside school life.

This learner made reference to a picture below from a named Grade 12 Mathematics textbook on page 1 textbook and stated:

…this is the only picture I have in this Mathematics textbook I need more and even better colourful pictures to learn from…others have nothing completely.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig 1

Source: Chiyaka, Finch, Muke & Van Niekerk (2015, p. 1)

Learners’ points of view indicate that pictures or images in the textbooks influence the learning process. Kasmaienezhadfard’s et al (2015) also argues that textbooks can have an influence on learners’ creativity. They can potentially motivate or induce or increase learners' creativity (Kaufman, Lee, Baer, & Lee, 2007). They often see pictures before they read the text and these pictures contribute to enhancing their relevant imagination powers (Kasmaienezhadfard’s et al., 2015) too. This is significant in enhancing learning. However, note need be made here that Mathematics textbook authors may need to carefully consider the relevance and suitability of the pictures or images to the age group and grade level before including them in any give Mathematics textbooks.

Definitions/meanings of key words

Some learners mentioned that providing the meaning of key words used or referred to in a particular topic can enhance learning. Providing meaning or use in everyday language would even be better as there are some words in mathematics that may have meanings that are different from meanings in everyday life which can be very confusing when learning mathematics if left unclarified. Some learners’ comments to this effect include the ones below:


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Secondary School Students and their Experiences of Using Mathematics Textbooks
Kwame Nkrumah University
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
secondary, school, students, experiences, using, mathematics, textbooks
Quote paper
Maureen Sinyangwe (Author), 2021, Secondary School Students and their Experiences of Using Mathematics Textbooks, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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