Durban - Teacher unions disagree on whether teachers are adequately trained to prepare matric pupils for the new exam structure, South African Teachers Union (Sadtu) provincial secretary Mbuyiseni Mathonsi said.

He believed the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education was setting matric pupils up for failure by introducing exam changes without adequately developing the teachers.

“We are not against the changes. However, it’s not about how many papers you write, but whether the person who is supposed to be giving the knowledge is confident in both content and methodology,” said Mathonsi.

He was responding to education head Nkosinathi Sishi’s announcement of the changes to this year’s Grade 12 exams.

Speaking at a senior managers’ conference at Durban’s Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Sishi said the department was discontinuing the optional mathematics paper three.

This meant that all maths pupils would be writing two papers, and these would include Euclidean geometry and probability, which were previously included in paper three.

Grade 9 pupils have been doing this section under the Revised National Curriculum Framework, but its assessment was not compulsory for those not writing maths paper three.

Euclidean geometry was introduced as part of the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (Caps) in Grade 10 two years ago.

Another change is that for the first time Economics would have two papers instead of one.

Professor Kobus Maree from the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Education also raised concerns about teacher development.

“Many universities have clamoured for the reintroduction of Euclidean geometry in high schools, as it’s required for engineering students. We hope the department is certain that teachers are able to teach these subjects well,” he said.

Maree said the constant changes to the school curriculum needed to be based on thorough research, instead of “introducing new things, then withdrawing them because they did not get the basics right”.

National Teachers Union president Allan Thompson said although the change was a good one, the department should have considered piloting it before full implementation.

“This is a great initiative by the department, as it will give those who aren’t able to master algebra a chance to pass mathematics if they do well in geometry. This means more work for both learners and teachers, so we encourage our members to conduct additional and remedial classes,” he said.

Anthony Pearce, of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, said the demand being placed on maths pupils was high, but he welcomed the move as it would improve the quality of maths results in the country.

He said their members had been teaching Euclidean geometry even after it was removed from the curriculum in 2008.

Dr Vimolan Mudaly, from UKZN’s School of Education, was against the idea of two maths papers instead of three.

“While it may decrease examination stress for the mathematics learners, it makes it much more difficult for the examiners to condense the examinable content into two papers.”

He said reinstating geometry was a good thing but there were some problems, one being that some teachers were avoiding teaching geometry because they did not understand the work.

Education spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said teachers had been adequately trained in all aspects of Caps and were being supported in their preparation for the exams.

“We have confidence in our educators and learners that they will do well and be the catalysts to embrace the changes.”

The Mercury