A drop in the number of pupils taking accounting as a school subject was a grave concern, the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (Saipa) said.
The institute – describing the situation as “a significant drain in accounting pupils” – said it saw this as a potential threat to the accounting job market.
The department of basic education reported a decrease: 103 427 fulltime pupils wrote the final accounting exam last year, compared with 128 853 in 2016.
The pass rate for the subject also showed a sharp decrease from 69.5% in 2016 to 66.1% in 2017.
The institute reiterated concerns from the department that learners were steering away from accounting to avoid taking pure mathematics: 245 103 fulltime matriculants wrote the 2017 pure mathematics exam compared with 265 810 pupils in 2016.
Faith Ngwenya, technical executive at Saipa, said the drop in numbers was also confirmed in the winter school classes which the institute hosted in Johannesburg in June.
“Some drop [accounting] from Grade 11 to Grade 12 and they would rather go and do a totally new subject just because they don’t want to continue with accounting,” said Ngwenya.
As for the reasons for the drop, Ngwenya pointed to schools insisting that accounting students take pure mathematics as a subject, as well as the fear of the subject as a result of pupils’ experiences with economic and management sciences in Grades 8 and 9.
In July last year, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga proposed to no longer make it compulsory for accounting students to take pure mathematics.
Saipa, however, disagreed with the minister.
“If mathematics is dropped as a compulsory requirement it’s going to spell disaster for a number of mainly previously disadvantaged schools because that is where, even now, the dropout from pure maths to maths [literacy] is more rife,” said Ngwenya.
She said this was one of the main reasons they emphasised the need for accounting learners to take pure mathematics.
Should pure maths no longer be compulsory for accounting students, Ngwenya said, “we will have less people that will be going into the finance field because they won’t meet the requirements”.
Despite these concerns, Ngwenya said there were interventions that could be made and she called for parents’ involvement.
“What one needs to look into from a school level is how the curriculum from grade 10, 11 and 12 can actually be devised such that it can allow for more qualified teachers in accounting to be teaching the subject ... and breaking up the information such that the learners are able to associate what it is that they are learning,” she said.
“Parents need to be involved in their children’s education, especially at the time where they have to choose their subjects because what you then find is that the parents do not understand what are the career choices and as a result they are not there to guide their kids to make the correct subject choices,” Ngwenya said.