Education minister eyes pure maths

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Ntombikayise and Nelisa Xhathalaza attended classes at UCT. University of Cape Town is helping matric students from the surrounding communities with maths and Literacy during the holidays. Picture: Lauren/Cape Times

Johannesburg -

If Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has his way, no pupil in Gauteng will be taking maths literacy as a subject by 2016.

Speaking to The Star just weeks into his appointment, Lesufi said top on his list of priorities was to improve the quality of education.

“I’m reviewing, seriously so, that by 2016… we phase out maths literacy.

“We need to emphasise that every child takes maths, real maths,” he said.

When asked if the province had enough maths teachers to do this, Lesufi said the department would double its budget for teacher training and strengthen the implementation of the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Strategy so that come 2016 the system was ready.

“That’s why we’re aiming for 2016; we don’t want to push this until we have a strong foundation that’ll enable learners to take maths - it would be irresponsible of us to do that.

“We’re going to upscale the strategy and create interest in maths,” Lesufi said.

The benefits of pupils taking maths - and passing it - are well documented.

Following a media briefing by Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga on the Maths Olympiad under way in Cape Town, the chief executive of the Actuarial Society of SA, Mike McDougall, said the unemployment figures recently released by Statistics SA showed that young people accounted for 90 percent of those who were unemployed and had never worked before.

This, McDougall said, should motivate pupils to work harder and matriculate with maths so that they can pursue studies in fields with good employment prospects. “The reality is that almost all of the careers that offer good job prospects to graduates require maths as a subject,” he said.

McDougall said the actuarial profession, for example, had a “practically zero” unemployment rate and other professions such as engineering, medicine and accounting that enjoyed low unemployment rates all required maths as a subject.

He pointed out that merely having maths as a subject was not enough and that pupils should pass it.

Well-intentioned as Lesufi’s plans may be and necessary as McDougall’s warning is, the marks that pupils are scoring in maths and maths literacy show the system is nowhere near ready to scrap math lit and significantly improve its performance on maths.

The results of last year’s Annual National Assess-ments, which test performance in numeracy, languages and literacy among pupils in grades 1 to 6 and Grade 9, showed that only 3 percent of the Grade 9 pupils achieved more than 50 percent in maths.

The Grade 9s scored a 14 percent average in the subject, up 1 percent from the 13 scored the previous year.

“Learner achievement at the intermediate phase (grades 4 to 6) in general and in Grade 9 maths in particular showed wide-ranging deficiencies in basic knowledge and competencies,” Motshekga said at the time.

When commenting on the results, National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa president Basil Manuel said the union was concerned about the current cohort of Grade 9 pupils.

“There will be a need for targeted intervention in the FET phase (further education and training) for these learners. If this does not happen, the matric class of 2016 could be a disaster,” he said.

Earlier this year, when the matric results of the class of 2013 were released, the maths pass rate was 59.1 percent, up from 54 percent in 2012.

A breakdown of the maths results, however, showed that the bulk of the pupils (59 percent) scored between 30 and 40 percent in maths.

It’s because of these weak marks that veteran maths educator Dr Lynn Bowie believes that there is still a need for maths lit in the system.

“I’m not saying we must lack ambition for school children but we must work with what we have,” she said.

Bowie said scrapping maths lit would place a huge burden on both teachers and pupils. She said the teaching of maths at primary school level was not strong enough and this had a ripple effect when pupils reached higher grades without knowing what they should.

The further they went the more difficult it was for them to catch up.

Bowie said this was partly why Grade 10 maths teachers particularly were facing a huge challenge.

They have to teach pupils maths that will enable them to reach and continue with it at university should they wish to do so, while also managing the deficit from pupils who aren’t on the level they should be.

Bowie said added to this was the “peculiar” situation in the country’s education system only having a single pure maths level, excluding maths lit, that has to cater to all the pupils.

She said that in most countries there were multiple paths in maths and each stream catered to the pupils’ different aptitudes and spoke to what pathway pupils would pursue post-school.

Bowie said judging by the different levels pupils were at and considering the fact that a majority of them scored in the 30-40 percent region, maths lit was still necessary.

She said the system needed to come up with more creative ways of dealing with performance and beef up maths teacher training instead of scrapping maths literacy.

- The Star

nontobeko.mtshali@inl.co.za


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