Schools chasing pass rates, pupils preferring 'easier' maths literacy and scarcity of good teachers among reasons
There are more than 300 schools in South Africa that no longer offer mathematics as a subject.
An association for Afrikaans mathematics teachers, Vereniging vir Afrikaanse Wiskunde-onderwysers (VAW), claims that it has obtained a list from the department of basic education itself that reveals this startling fact.
VAW is an initiative of trade union Solidarity.
Most of these schools are quintile 1 to 3 schools, in other words, schools in poorer areas where people cannot afford to pay school fees, said Johan Koekemoer, the head of the VAW.
Children choose the easier option, namely maths literacy, when they make choices about subjects in Grade 10.
Michael le Cordeur
Michael le Cordeur, head of the department of curriculum studies in the education faculty at Stellenbosch University, said that his own research had also revealed that some schools no longer offered mathematics.
This trend appears to be attributable to the fact that increasing numbers of pupils are choosing to take maths literacy rather than “pure” mathematics.
“Children choose the easier option, namely maths literacy, when they make choices about subjects in Grade 10.”
Last year there were 14 178 fewer pupils who took pure mathematics in matric, while the number taking maths literacy increasing by 6 362, compared to 2018.
The department of basic education did not respond to a request for comment sent by City Press’ sister publication, Rapport.
Le Cordeur said a national mind shift was needed when it came to mathematics. Children were taught from a young age that “maths is hard” and that’s why they avoided it.
There was immense fanfare when the matric results are announced – when it was too late, he said.
“We can’t fix it in the last few weeks with study camps and extra classes.”
Le Cordeur said part of the problem was also that pupils were “coached” for the mathematics exam and worked almost exclusively from old exam papers.
“Little learning takes place.”
Teachers who can offer mathematics are very quickly snapped up by the private sector.
Another factor contributing to the problem was a lack of exceptional, committed teachers.
Said Koekemoer: “Teachers who can offer mathematics are very quickly snapped up by the private sector. It’s a cycle that actually has its roots in the fact that (public school) teachers are expected to work themselves to death for a relatively low wage.”
Le Cordeur said he did not have figures, but that there was definitely a shortage of good mathematics teachers.
Chris Klopper, head of the Afrikaans teachers union SAOU, also said it did not have figures readily available.
“There are certainly enough teachers who call themselves mathematics teachers, but there definitely aren’t enough with the necessary in-depth knowledge of the field who are able to a convey a love of the subject, or to reduce ‘mathematics anxiety’,” he said.
According to the department of basic education, more than half of the students (54.6%) who wrote mathematics for matric managed to achieve only a 30% mark.
SA Democratic Teachers’ Union general secretary Mugwena Maluleke told City Press that the situation was “disastrous”.
“If we are going to be having schools that prioritise maths literacy over mathematics, this would confirm that our schools and the department are really obsessed with statistics rather than with our children, because it is about which province is number one.
“This drives the schools to offer simple subjects so that they are able to remain at the top, not looking at the quality of education and the future of our children,” he said. He reiterated the need to encourage more pupils to do mathematics, saying this should be coupled with building a solid foundation for pupils from an early phase of their education.