Keep maths in the equa­tion, ex­perts say

Pro­posal to make it not a com­pul­sory sub­ject lashed


ACA­DEMICS have fiercely crit­i­cised the Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion’s (DBE) re­cent pro­nounce­ments re­gard­ing pro­posed changes to the pass­ing re­quire­ments for grades 7 to 9.

This comes in the wake of the DBE’s pro­posed changes to the pass­ing re­quire­ments for those grades, which specif­i­cally in­volves math­e­mat­ics. The depart­ment pro­posed the low­er­ing of the pass rate to 40% for four sub­jects, in­clud­ing a home lan­guage, and 30% for four other sub­jects in those grades.

The depart­ment has also re­vealed its plan to drop maths as a com­pul­sory sub­ject for grades 7-9.

The pro­posal comes af­ter the dis­mal fi­nal re­sults were re­leased for last year’s matrics.

But some have ques­tioned why maths is be­ing sin­gled out for poor pass rates of pupils in those grades, while oth­ers said the pro­posal would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to the de­vel­op­ment of maths in the coun­try.

Pro­fes­sor Robert Bal­four, act­ing deputy vice-chan­cel­lor of teach­ing-learn­ing at North West Univer­sity, said the depart­ment was high­light­ing maths as the key com­po­nent for poor pass rates and cre­at­ing a harsher re­al­ity for the state of maths as a whole.

Ac­cord­ing to Bal­four, pupils in grades 7-9 can­not know al­ready whether they wish to pur­sue a ca­reer in maths or not, and this would in turn cre­ate a sit­u­a­tion where, should the pupils de­cide to pur­sue maths, they would not be able to do so.

“If learn­ers and teach­ers re­alise that they need not pass maths to pass the grade, it might al­low teach­ers to spend less time on math­e­mat­ics, and it will im­pact neg­a­tively on learn­ers’ mo­ti­va­tion to study math­e­mat­ics,” Bal­four pointed out.

He also em­pha­sised how the lack of fo­cus on math­e­mat­ics could lead to a de­crease of fund­ing on re­sources for the maths depart­ment.

It could also cre­ate a di­vide be­tween maths and other sub­jects, which would then lead to the idea that maths was not im­por­tant, Bal­four added.

And it’s not only Bal­four who dis­agrees with the DBE’s move.

No­musa Cembi, the spokesper­son for the South African Demo­cratic Teach­ers Union, is of the view that math­e­mat­ics is a crit­i­cal sub­ject in the ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion level.

“It is im­por­tant that pupils are mo­ti­vated to learn math­e­mat­ics.”

Cembi also said South Africa’s math­e­mat­ics must be on the same level as that in other African coun­tries.

But Nkosipen­d­ule Ntan­tala, the pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Pro­fes­sional Teach­ers Or­gan­i­sa­tion of SA (Nap­tosa), be­lieves the pro­posal could be a move in the right di­rec­tion.

“Not all learn­ers would want to pur­sue a ca­reer in math­e­mat­ics, and thus there should be no need to pun­ish them.

“Only those who want to pur­sue a ca­reer in math­e­mat­ics should be obliged to take the sub­ject.”

Ntan­tala also said the real is­sue does not lie with the per­cent­age, but with the qual­ity of teach­ing and learn­ing in math­e­mat­ics.

“Nap­tosa is of the view that the sooner a de­ci­sion is made in this re­gard, the bet­ter for the coun­try.

“They (the depart­ment) do not want to in­flate marks when they re­alise that learn­ers are fail­ing, as they did the pre­vi­ous year.”

South Africa is ranked 138 out of 144 in math­e­mat­ics.

Dr An­nelie Roux, of North West Univer­sity, ex­pressed con­cern about the sit­u­a­tion and said the pro­posal would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to the de­vel­op­ment of maths in the coun­try.

Both Roux and Bal­four are wor­ried about the state of math­e­mat­ics in the coun­try and be­lieve the DBE’s pro­posal will do noth­ing to com­bat the prob­lem.

Ac­cord­ing to Triple E Train­ing, an adult ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing provider since 1991, sta­tis­tics they have gath­ered prove that the av­er­age nu­mer­acy level of adults in South Africa is equal to that of Grade 2 or 3, a large por­tion of which is made up of young adults who passed Grade 12 in re­cent years.

Marinda Clack, ex­ec­u­tive mar­keter at Triple E Train­ing, said this proves that maths lit­er­acy is not suf­fi­cient, and math­e­mat­ics should re­main a com­pul­sory sub­ject for grades 7, 8 and 9.

That was be­cause maths trains the brain for solv­ing prob­lems in not only math­e­mat­i­cal prob­lem-solv­ing, but gen­eral prob­lem-solv­ing skills that were needed in life.

“Re­mov­ing math­e­mat­ics as a com­pul­sory sub­ject, in my opin­ion is ir­re­spon­si­ble of the DBE, con­sid­er­ing that prob­lem-solv­ing is a key skill in the ad­vance­ment of any econ­omy.

“Logic dic­tates that the sta­tis­tics we see where even young adults with Grade 12 show a maths lit­er­acy level equal to that of Grade 2 or 3 is par­tially linked to un­der­qual­i­fied teach­ers or even an in­cor­rect cur­ricu­lum,” she pointed out.

“Another fac­tor that con­trib­utes to this is the re­cent ad­di­tion of maths lit­er­acy, be­cause most learn­ers opt for that in­stead of math­e­mat­ics.

“Un­for­tu­nately, maths lit­er­acy is not suf­fi­cient to help adults func­tion in­de­pen­dently. Daily we see how adults need as­sis­tance to read a till slip or un­der­stand a salary slip, let alone man­age a per­sonal bud­get,” Clack said.


ES­SEN­TIAL SKILL: Sta­tis­tics show that pupils’ poor per­for­mance in maths at school points to un­der-qual­i­fied teach­ers or the cur­ricu­lum.

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