Maths ‘myths’ don’t add up

Professor Tamsin Meaney from the University of Malmö, Sweden, is in danger of creating new and dangerous myths in “Myths of maths and education” (March 28). Her article is a summarised version of her address as a plenary speaker at a conference of the Southern African Association of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education held in January at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

In the article she claims there are three statements that are myths “and accepting these myths can have dire consequences for our youngest children in particular”. I am not an expert in education and I have thus not read all the learned articles she refers to. But I do want to apply some common sense garnered from what I have read in a number of fields of study. Let us take the three “myths” one by one.

First “myth”: Doing well in mathematics is likely to support the country’s economic progress. Of course there is a complicated relationship between mathematics achievement and economic progress, but which country can progress economically unless it has people who are competent at mathematics? One of the essential requirements for developing and emerging countries to progress economically is to raise the level of mathematical and scientific ability of their people. Without it they do not stand a chance.

Second “myth”: Succeeding in education will bring children out of poverty. If young children were to believe that this is a myth it would certainly have dire consequences for them. Disadvantaged children will remain disadvantaged and poor because they will have no opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty if they do not succeed in education. Of course, educational success is not a guarantee of children being lifted out of poverty. Succeeding in education is a necessary but not a sufficient condition.

Third “myth”: Regular testing will contribute to raising educational standards. Maybe in Sweden and the other industrially advanced countries regular testing does not contribute to raising educational standards, but in South Africa it is essential to have regular testing, well before the final matric exam.

And these tests need to be benchmarked internationally to see how we are really doing. This is because in this globalised world we now compete against other countries around the world for jobs.

Regular tests at lower grades can give our educationalists the chance to see how we are performing in education and allow them to intervene where problems are detected. Of course, regular testing alone will not raise educational standards. It is essential to take steps to improve education where the tests show it to be necessary.

The M&G report unfortunately does not tell us how Professor Meaney’s address was received at the plenary address, but I hope she was challenged and shown that she was propagating dangerous myths. – Johann Maree, emeritus professor of sociology, University of Cape Town


Hlophe complaint is an eerie echo

But the new complaint against the Western Cape judge president is also unprecedented

Mabuza contract grows by R10m

Eskom’s negotiators in a R100-million maintenance contract came back with a proposal to push up the costs

‘There were no marks on his neck’, Neil Aggett inquest...

The trade unionist’s partner at the time he was detained at John Vorster Square says she now believes his death was not a suicide

Press Releases

Boosting safety for cargo and drivers

The use of a telematics system for fleet vehicles has proved to be an important tool in helping to drive down costs and improve efficiency, says MiX Telematics Africa.

Silencing the guns and firearms amnesty

Silencing the guns and firearms amnesty

Gender-based violence is an affront to our humanity

Gender-based violence is an affront to our humanity

UK-Africa investment summit 2020: Think Africa Invest SA

UK-Africa investment summit 2020: Think Africa Invest SA

MTN unveils TikTok bundles

Customised MTN TikTok data bundles are available to all prepaid customers on *136*2#.

Marketers need to reinvent themselves

Marketing is an exciting discipline, offering the perfect fit for individuals who are equally interested in business, human dynamics and strategic thinking. But the...

Upskill yourself to land your dream job in 2020

If you received admission to an IIE Higher Certificate qualification, once you have graduated, you can articulate to an IIE Diploma and then IIE Bachelor's degree at IIE Rosebank College.

South Africans unsure of what to expect in 2020

Almost half (49%) of South Africans, 15 years and older, agree or strongly agree that they view 2020 with optimism.