/ 24 December 2014

Schools required to pick up slack with maths, science

Maths skills.
Medical degrees are not immune to economic downturns. (Paul Botes)

Angie Motshekga’s basic education department has told secondary schools not to dare drop mathematics and science in the following year. 

Instead, “schools currently not offering mathematics should, with effect from 2015, incrementally offer the subject in grade 10 as an option between mathematics and mathematical literacy”, said the department’s recent circular seen by the Mail & Guardian.

The communiqué, signed by acting director-general Paddy Padayachee on October 23, appears to be a direct attempt by the department to stop more high schools from dropping the critical subjects. 

One of the “directives” in the two-page document is: “Schools intending to discontinue the offering of mathematics to rescind the decision.”

It further calls on schools currently offering the subject to “increase the enrolment of mathematics learners as in accordance with the set provincial targets”. 

“Part of the plan is to get every school in the country to enrol more learners for mathematics while decreasing the number of learners taking mathematical literacy,” said Padayachee in the document.

Maths literacy
The M&G reported in August that 327 schools across the country were not offering mathematics to their matrics this year. 

The schools offered maths literacy, a subject generally considered a dumbed-down version of pure maths. Universities do not recognise maths literacy.

Also in August the M&G ascertained at least two major reasons why a number of public schools are not offering pure maths, a subject largely accepted as a critical component in addressing the skills shortage in the country. 

One reason is that some schools simply do not have the necessary teachers. The other is because some schools deliberately drop maths and offer only the much easier maths literacy in an effort to polish their matric results. 

Insiders at some of the schools in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape that didn’t teach maths said they won’t get maths teachers because they have small pupil numbers.

At the centre of the schools’ plight is a controversial model the basic education department uses to decide the number of teachers allocated to each school. The “post-provisioning model” dictates that the fewer the number of pupils, the fewer teachers a school gets – regardless of the number of grades and subjects it offers.

Sedibeng, a secondary school in Burgersfort, Limpopo, last had a matric maths teacher in 2010 – “but he was temporary”, explained an insider.  

“Only seven” teachers [were] responsible for the school’s 254 pupils in grades eight to 12. Alfred Giba Senior Secondary School in the Eastern Cape town of Peddie has bled teachers over the years as pupil numbers have dwindled. 

“The maths teacher was transferred because of [this],” said a school insider. 

Mugwena Maluleke, general secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), told the M&G the union wants Motshekga to “review” this model.

“We fully agree that all schools should offer maths and science. The department ought to ensure schools have full complement of teachers.” 

Sadtu, the largest teacher union in country and aligned to the ruling ANC, resolved at its recent congress in Benoni, Gauteng, to “engage in a national campaign for the implementation of the ANC’s Mangaung conference resolution on post-provisioning”.

The ANC resolved in 2012 that “in addition to [pupil] numbers” in schools, the model “must be informed by socioeconomic context and curricula needs”.

Padayachee’s circular is mum on such full supply of teachers to schools. 

But it proudly reminds the recipients that the department – as per goals of the National Development Plan (NDP) – “has the responsibility to almost triple the output of learners passing mathematics and physical science.”

The NDP, which Cabinet adopted in 2011, proposed a target of 450 000 matrics achieving bachelor passes with maths and science by 2030. But currently compounding the national problem is that enrolments for maths have been plummeting – from 263 000 in 2010 to a little more than half that number last year.

In last year’s matric examination, more than 280 000 pupils wrote maths literacy and 87% passed. By contrast, only 143 000 wrote maths, of whom a mere 60% passed.

The M&G ascertained, also in the August investigation, some public schools dropped maths because of poor matric performances.  

This was the case at Mgcawezulu Senior Secondary School in Zwelitsha, in the Eastern Cape. At the time an insider said: “After eight years of no improvement, we decided to go for maths literacy.  

“The pass rate in maths was so bad that only one child would do well.”