Third maths subject may be introduced

Cape Town - A third maths subject - technical maths - may be added to the school curriculum.

The task team appointed by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to investigate the standard of the national senior certificate envisions that the subject would be aligned with vocational, artisanal and technical programmes for the Grades 10 to 12 band.

A University of Johannesburg lecturer has become the first woman in Africa to be awarded a doctoral degree in experimental physics of highly correlated matter.

Pupils currently choose between studying maths and maths literacy.

But, warned the task team in its report, technical maths should not be introduced at all schools.

“This would be a retrogressive step and would be unlikely to improve mathematics learning outcomes in real terms. Rather a completely different mathematics curriculum should be developed with a much stronger technical/vocational application and ‘mathematical user’ orientation for introduction solely in a technical/vocational pathway of the schooling system.”

The task team noted the “unprecedented media and public comment” about maths and pupil performance in maths since 1994.

“This has been enabled in large measure by the many national and international assessments, examinations and studies that the schooling system has been subjected to, especially in respect of mathematics and science.

“South Africa’s poor showing in mathematics performance (among other areas) on a range of different ‘league tables’ has generated wide speculation and has prompted studies to determine the reasons for this poor performance as well as to propose what needs to be done to improve the situation.”

The team said there would be no “silver bullet” in improving maths results.

“No amount of further tinkering with or reforming of the mathematics curriculum policy can take the place of the hard work needed in schools and classrooms and by respective provinces and districts. There are no shortcuts to improving the teaching and learning of mathematics.”

It was also recommended pupils be required to take maths with selected science subjects and also when taking a combination of economics and accounting.

“One of the consequences of not choosing mathematics is that learners may achieve ‘Bachelor’ or ‘Diploma’ passes but still not satisfy the requirements for admission to the programmes of their choice. Another problem, both at school and in further education, is that students lack the foundation that the subject of mathematics provides for other subjects… and this impacts their success rates.”

Other recommendations included:

Tim Gordon, chief executive of the Governing Body Foundation, said it was pleasing the task team had recommended “further differentiation in the mathematics curriculum, together with the introduction of a separate course in vocational or technical mathematics”.

National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa president Basil Manuel said it supported the call for the maths education campaign and that pupils be required to take maths with certain other subjects.