28 Aug

Mathematics Thought Leadership

It is clear that Mathematics underpins the economy as well as science and technology. This is evident when one is able to see that disciplines in Engineering, Mining, Computers and computing and other such areas have mathematics as a firm prerequisite.

According to a Mail & Guardian article (http://mg.co.za/article/2011-04-04-teachers-maths-problems-just-dont-add-up), one of the problems is that the teachers are not adequately capacitated.

“Primary school teachers are battling with the simple arithmetic they’re meant to be teaching, according to a survey of education in South Africa. Mathematics teachers are battling with simple issues such as calculating percentages, according to a study using the recent Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ III) dataset for South Africa.

“What is evident is that maths performance is not very good in the broader context of what one expects from primary level. Teachers are really struggling with issues such as calculating percentages,” said Professor Servaas van den Berg of Stellenbosch University’s economics department.”

Clearly, this should be a starting point. If teachers are trained adequately, this is bound to have a spin-off effect in the classroom. The problem will simply fester if teachers themselves cannot fathom the intricacies if mathematics and learners are left with inaccurate calculations, and perceptions. Furthermore, in order to dispel the myth that mathematics is difficult, there should be a focus on promoting mathematics as a fun subject.

An interesting study is how members of the American Peace Corps used games to teach Maths to school children in South Africa.

Washington — Add two Peace Corps volunteers and six South African schools, and what do you get? A formula for making math fun.

Peace Corps volunteers Chris Ames of Chicago and Genna Cummins of Mount Vernon, Kentucky, have organized a math competition for students in six South African schools that transforms intimidating math lessons into exciting games.

In a contest modelled after the American “Mathletes” competition, sixth-grade students earn points for their school when they correctly solve problems in three different competitive rounds, a May 23 Peace Corps news release reported.

“One of the many reasons that math skills are so poor in rural South Africa is the amount of intimidation and anxiety it induces in learners,” said Ames, who has been teaching math in South Africa since July 2011.

“In order to make math fun and ease some of these anxieties, Genna and I have introduced Mathletes, which is a type of math competition already well established in the United States,” Ames said.
Read more: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/article/2012/05/201205246265.html?CP.rss=true#ixzz275D5TCOv


There is a dire need to make concerted efforts to dispel the myth that mathematics is an ogre that is either difficult or impossible to conquer.



What is Core Maths?

It involves abstract problem solving and reasoning. It is geared to prepare young people for specific fields of study such as engineering, accounting, actuarial and medical science. If a learner wishes to pursue such a career he/she should study core Mathematics. Content is far more involved and includes topics such as Transformation Geometry, Probability, Data handling (Statistics), Financial Maths in addition to the original content. There are three examination papers: Papers 1 and 2 of three-hour duration and paper  3 of two-hour duration. Both content and context become more complex.

Why choose Maths Literacy?

Maths Literacy focuses on skills rather than content. The skills deal with the day-to-day working of mathematics. Examples include topics such as how to buy a house, including calculating transfer fees and bond repayment amounts; the benefits and downfalls of hire purchase; reading and interpreting statistics in newspaper articles and how to calculate income tax. The Department of Basic Education defines Maths Literacy as, “Mathematical Literacy provides learners with an awareness of and understanding of the role that mathematics plays in the modern world. Mathematical Literacy is a subject driven by life-related applications of mathematics. It enables learners to develop the ability and confidence to think numerically and spatially in order to interpret and critically analyse everyday situations and to solve problems.”  It also involves interpreting maps; timetables; calculation of areas and volumes; using medicines correctly, dress patterns; house plans and recipes. Context gradually becomes more complex.

One can pursue a career in social and life sciences only.


Statistically speaking:

Before the new curriculum was introduced in 2006, learners could choose to take Mathematics on Higher Grade, Standard Grade or not at all.

During the period 2000-2005 40% of learners were not taking Maths at all. About half then learners who took Maths were taking it on Standard Grade. During this period the average percentage of learners out of the cohort  of matric exam candidates who got a pass on Higher Grade was 5.2%. Today there are many more learners passing core Maths compared to the period 2000-2005.

Out of the 923,463 learners who started Grade 1 in 2000, only 496, 000, or approximately half the number, wrote matric in 2011.  The number of matriculants who passed core mathematics dropped to 104, 033 which means that only 1 in 10 of the learners in the 2000 Grade 1 class managed to achieve the questionably low pass rate of 30% in mathematics.  Universities require at least a 50% pass rate for medical, engineering and accounting degree courses but the number of learners achieving this is disappointingly low.

There is a dire shortage of mathematics teachers in the country. In the Eastern Cape 16 581        teachers were qualified to teach mathematics, but only 7 090 were actually teaching the subject. According to government studies, teachers arrive late, leave early and spend only 46% of their time reaching each week. Training institutes also leave a lot to be desired. Only about one-third of instutition’s programmes could qualify for accreditation.

Apart from the shortage of teachers, there is also a need to retain teachers as most talented graduates emigrate or take up other professions, resulting in the loss of thousands of teachers annually. An innovative incentive scheme will go a long way in attempting to address the problem.

There is a need to train teachers in subjects with scarce needs such as Mathematics and Physical science. Immigrant teachers are also assisting with the backlog of teachers, although this strategy is not viewed favourably by policymakers.

The SAICA perspective:

“SAICA has for years proven that existing deficiencies in the South African schooling system, especially in Maths, Science and Accounting, can be overcome by identifying young and underprivileged students who can be trained successfully as chartered accountants”  said Gugu Makhanya, SAICA Project Director: Transformation.

Chantyl Mulder, Senior Executive: Transformation, said, “Maths will influence every part of your life. That is why it is so vital to take maths seriously and not just try to pass it! So do the maths when it comes to choosing subjects. Keep your options open and protect your choices by taking maths because if you do well maths can make your dreams come true. With Maths you could become a CA(SA) and being a CA(SA) opens a lot of doors,”

Career Resources:

The NQF Helpline:

Website: http://www.careerhelp.org.za

Pace Career Centre:

Website: http://www.pacecareers.com/index.html


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