Tech­ni­cal maths - but what fol­lows?

Schools want uni­ver­si­ties to be­come clear on ter­tiary path, writes Lee-Anne But­ler

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - NEWS -

NEXT year, the first ma­tric­u­lants do­ing tech­ni­cal maths as a sub­ject will be writ­ing their ex­ams, but un­cer­tainty re­mains about what de­grees they will be able to qual­ify for at univer­sity.

While NMMU said it was still await­ing feed­back on how to in­clude the sub­ject into its ad­mis­sions cri­te­ria, prin­ci­pals and teach­ers said they needed the is­sue re­solved as soon as pos­si­ble be­cause pupils and par­ents needed sub­ject guid­ance.

Last year, tech­ni­cal maths and tech­ni­cal sci­ence were in­tro­duced as al­ter­na­tives to maths and sci­ence for pupils at­tend­ing tech­ni­cal and com­pre­hen­sive high schools where en­gi­neer­ing sub­jects are taught.

Nel­son Man­dela Bay schools of­fer­ing tech­ni­cal sub­jects such as en­gi­neer­ing graph­ics and de­sign and other en­gi­neer­ing sub­jects in­clude Daniel Pien­aar, New­ton Tech­ni­cal High and Gel­van­dale High.

NMMU dean of teach­ing and learn­ing Prof Ch­eryl Fox­croft said the univer­sity was par­tic­i­pat­ing in ini­tia­tives na­tion­ally through Uni­ver­si­ties South Africa and Umalusi on how to in­clude tech­ni­cal maths in its ad­mis­sions cri­te­ria.

“At this stage it is pre­ma­ture to in­clude tech­ni­cal maths in our ad­mis­sions cri­te­ria un­til there are na­tional guide­lines,” she said.

But Rhodes Univer­sity spokes­woman Veliswa Mh­lope said the in­sti­tu­tion had al­ready made pro­vi­sion for the sub­ject and pupils with tech­ni­cal maths did not qual­ify for com­merce, sci­ence or phar­macy de­grees.

She said pupils with tech­ni­cal maths and maths lit­er­acy could ap­ply for hu­man­i­ties de­grees (BA and BSS) and Bach­e­lor of Ed­u­ca­tion (Foundation Phase).

Daniel Pien­aar prin­ci­pal Nico Claassen said while the schools were pleased with the in­tro­duc­tion of tech­ni­cal maths, the lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion from uni­ver­si­ties re­gard­ing the sub­ject and ad­mis­sions cri­te­ria was cause for con­cern.

“There is no clar­ity and no fi­nal de­ci­sions have been made,” Claasen said.

“In the mean­time we need to ad­vise pupils and their par­ents, but there is still not one sin­gle doc­u­ment stip­u­lat­ing tech­ni­cal maths and the re­quire­ments for cer­tain cour­ses.”

Claassen said de­spite the lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, schools were pleased with the in­tro­duc­tion of tech­ni­cal maths, es­pe­cially for pupils who planned to be­come ar­ti­sans in­stead of en­gi­neers.

“To do maths, a cer­tain level of skill is re­quired. Not ev­ery­one can do maths to­day be­cause it is at the same level that higher grade used to be,” he said.

“A large num­ber of pupils have been ex­cluded from be­ing able to do the sub­ject.

“To be­come a skilled ar­ti­san you do not need pure maths, but you do need to do maths at a cer­tain level. This is why we are happy about the in­tro­duc­tion of tech­ni­cal maths.”

Claassen said only schools of­fer­ing sub­jects like me­chan­i­cal, elec­tri­cal and civil en­gi­neer­ing and en­gi­neer­ing graph­ics and de­sign would of­fer tech­ni­cal maths and tech­ni­cal sci­ence.

Claassen and New­ton Tech­ni­cal High prin­ci­pal Shirley Wil­son said the two schools were in the process of phas­ing out maths lit­er­acy as a sub­ject due to the in­tro­duc­tion of tech­ni­cal maths.

Wil­son said be­cause the sub­ject was in­tro­duced to Grade 10 classes last year, the first ma­tric­u­lants would only write tech­ni­cal maths next year.

Nesta Olivier, sub­ject head of tech­ni­cal maths at New­ton, said: “I be­lieve the in­tro­duc­tion of tech­ni­cal maths is a good thing for pupils and it would be a pity if uni­ver­si­ties do not ac­cept it.

“Tech­ni­cal maths is not an easy way out. It is ex­actly the same as nor­mal maths but more geared to­wards ap­pli­ca­tion.”

Olivier said she be­lieved spe­cial­i­sa­tion in sub­jects should start ear­lier, at pri­mary school level, in­stead of one class teacher teach­ing var­i­ous sub­jects.

Aubrey Thomas, deputy prin­ci­pal and head of maths at Gel­van­dale High, said it was con­cern­ing that the num­ber of pupils do­ing maths was dropping.

“We are still wait­ing for con­fir­ma­tion from uni­ver­si­ties re­gard­ing what cour­ses pupils with tech­ni­cal maths can do,” he said.

“How­ever, the num­ber of pupils do­ing maths has steadily de­clined. We also find that our maths lit­er­acy re­sults are de­clin­ing.

“We be­lieve the prob­lem stems from lower grades in pri­mary school.

“In maths, pupils need to con­stantly do ex­er­cises. For pupils from poorer so­cio-eco­nomic back­grounds this is dif­fi­cult.

“You need more parental in­ter­ac­tion, more ac­cess to dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies and you need school­ing to start ear­lier.

“You need to prac­tise on a daily ba­sis. In ar­eas like Gel­van­dale and He­len­vale where safety is a con­cern, this is dif­fi­cult.”

Gel­van­dale High prin­ci­pal Deon O’Brien said there were 47 Grade 10 pupils and 59 Grade 11 pupils do­ing tech­ni­cal maths this year.

Fox­croft said pupils should be ad­vised to look at the ad­mis­sions cri­te­ria for spe­cific pro­grammes that they are in­ter­ested in be­fore choos­ing their sub­ject streams and dropping maths as a sub­ject.

“In gen­eral, most pro­grammes in sci­ence, en­gi­neer­ing, built en­vi­ron­ment, med­i­cal sci­ences, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, ac­count­ing and busi­ness sci­ences and some in be­havioural sci­ences and ed­u­ca­tion, re­quire math­e­mat­ics.

“Also, tak­ing math­e­mat­ics to Grade 12 pro­vides a set of cog­ni­tive tools that pre­pare stu­dents well for de­gree studies, even if the pro­gramme en­rolled for does not in­clude maths in the ad­mis­sion re­quire­ments.”

Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment spokesman Mal­i­bongwe Mtima said pupils were en­cour­aged to con­tinue maths un­til Grade 9, when schools study re­sults be­fore ad­vis­ing on sub­ject streams.

He said the de­part­ment did not be­lieve the num­ber of pupils do­ing maths was cause for con­cern but con­ceded that lack of maths and sci­ence ed­u­ca­tors was a chal­lenge.

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