Ex­pert warns of long-term im­pact of scrap­ping maths

CityPress - - News - MSINDISI FENGU msindisi.fengu@city­press.co.za

South Africa risks pro­duc­ing fewer sci­en­tists and engineers if gov­ern­ment’s plan to scrap maths as a com­pul­sory pro­mo­tional re­quire­ment goes ahead, ex­perts warned this week.

Eastern Cape-based ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert Dr Ashley West­away has raised con­cerns that the coun­try could end up with even less sci­en­tists, math­e­ma­ti­cians, engineers, ac­coun­tants and phar­ma­cists fol­low­ing the de­part­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion’s pro­posal to scrap maths as a com­pul­sory pro­mo­tional re­quire­ment in grades 7, 8 and 9.

“South Africa’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem re­sem­bles a con­veyor belt of medi­ocrity rather than an in­vest­ment in the fu­ture gen­er­a­tion. The pur­pose is to move the masses through the sys­tem rather than to ed­u­cate them,” West­away protested.

West­away, the man­ager of Gra­ham­stown Area Dis­tress Re­lief As­so­ci­a­tion Ed­u­ca­tion, a non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion work­ing in part­ner­ship with Rhodes Univer­sity’s fac­ulty of ed­u­ca­tion, said the con­se­quence of the pro­posal was that per­for­mance in math­e­mat­ics in grades 10 to 12 would con­tinue to de­cline.

She fore­saw an ever greater pro­por­tion of pupils choos­ing math­e­mat­i­cal lit­er­acy over math­e­mat­ics. The coun­try’s pass rate in both subjects in Grade 12 would re­main low or de­cline, and the pro­por­tion of good passes (50% and above) in both subjects would also de­cline.

Ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment spokesper­son Eli­jah Mh­langa this week dis­missed sug­ges­tions that the move could fur­ther crip­ple the coun­try’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

“The min­is­ter es­tab­lished a min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee to ad­vise her on a way for­ward. The align­ment of pass re­quire­ments in grades 7, 8, and 9 is con­sis­tent with what’s in grades 10, 11, and 12. It makes sense that at se­condary school level the pro­mo­tion re­quire­ments be the same. At the mo­ment they are not and that’s what we are cor­rect­ing,” he said, adding that the con­sul­ta­tion process would be com­pleted in a mat­ter of months.

He said the de­part­ment had been mon­i­tor­ing the im­pact of the new pass re­quire­ments in the af­fected grades. The new pro­mo­tion re­quire­ments were TALK TO US Should the de­part­ment down­grade the im­por­tance of maths fur­ther or in­stead in­sist that teach­ers do their jobs bet­ter? SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word MATHS and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50 im­ple­mented in 2012 fol­low­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion from a task team es­tab­lished by Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga.

“To min­imise the im­pact of the higher pro­mo­tion re­quire­ments in the se­nior phase, the de­part­ment is­sued Na­tional As­sess­ment Cir­cu­lar 3 of 2015 to al­low for the ad­just­ment of marks and in 2016, given the ad­verse im­pact of the com­pul­sory pass re­quire­ment of maths at 40%, a spe­cial con­do­na­tion dis­pen­sa­tion for maths was ap­plied,” Mh­langa ex­plained.

He said based on Na­tional As­sess­ment Cir­cu­lar 3 of 2016, pupils who passed all other subjects, but failed maths with a min­i­mum mark of 20%, were con­doned, al­low­ing them to pass their ex­am­i­na­tions as a whole. This was af­ter the de­part­ment ob­served the neg­a­tive im­pact of the com­pul­sory pass re­quire­ment of maths at 40% and home lan­guage at 50%. The pol­icy amend­ments were con­sid­ered in re­sponse to the un­in­tended con­se­quences of the new re­quire­ments.

How­ever, West­away said the pro­posal to scrap maths as a com­pul­sory re­quire­ment stemmed from con­cern about high rep­e­ti­tion rates.

Over the past few years the de­part­ment has in­tro­duced var­i­ous mea­sures and poli­cies to mit­i­gate this, in­clud­ing pro­gres­sion and mod­u­lar­i­sa­tion poli­cies.

West­away sug­gested that the log­i­cal and ap­pro­pri­ate re­me­dial ac­tion would be to im­prove the qual­ity of maths teach­ing in the foun­da­tion and in­ter­me­di­ate phases.

“But be­cause of the per­ni­cious hold that the SA Demo­cratic Teach­ers’ Union has on the de­part­ment, this is not pos­si­ble. There­fore it is re­sort­ing to tac­tics that en­able learn­ers to progress with­out them having the ba­sic ed­u­ca­tional es­sen­tials that should be tied to an un­der­stand­ing of what it means to pass,” she said.

Pro­fes­sor Linda Chisholm from the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg’s Cen­tre for Ed­u­ca­tion Rights and Trans­for­ma­tion said the de­part­ment needed to be much clearer about what ex­actly it was propos­ing so that there can be an in­formed pub­lic dis­cus­sion.

“The ra­tio­nale – for the need for align­ment – is just too vague and means noth­ing. How does a bu­reau­cratic ra­tio­nale for align­ment square with pub­lic con­cerns about stan­dards and qual­ity?” Chisholm asked.

Angie Mot­shekga

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