Expert warns of long-term impact of scrapping maths
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.