DA: Maths in free fall in our schools

The number of matric pupils studying pure maths is falling, says the DA. (Cedric Petersen/Maths Centre)

The number of matric pupils studying pure maths is falling, says the DA. (Cedric Petersen/Maths Centre)

The number of matric pupils studying pure maths has declined every year for the last four years, the DA said on Tuesday.

The party also said the basic education department has no idea how many teachers are teaching mathematics at FET level; no idea how many of those currently teaching the subject are qualified to do so; and no idea how many maths teachers are actually required by the education sector.

DA basic education spokesperson, Annette Lovemore, said 275 607 pupils had enrolled to write the maths exam this year and that this was a decrease of 4% from 44.3% in 2012 to 40.8% in 2015. 

The party got its information from responses by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to parliamentary questions.

You do the math
But departmental spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, appeared to dispute these figures.

Responding to the Mail & Guardian’s questions about the DA’s statement he simply sent the newspaper a table of figures labeled “Mathematics”.

The figures showed an increase in the numbers of pupils studying maths from 230 194 in 2012 to 273 348 in 2015.

He later sent an email with a table labeled “Mathematical Literacy” which also appeared to show an increase in the amount of pupils taking the subject.

He did not respond to any more of the M&G’s questions.

Lovemore said of the 100 identified scarce skills in South Africa, 93 require a decent pass in matric maths. 

“Yet only 12% of 2014’s successful matriculants achieved more than 50% for mathematics,” she said.

Poor teaching figures
A year ago the Mail & Guardian reported that 327 schools across the country were offering only maths literacy in grade 12 that year. Most of them were poor public schools, and others were low-cost independent schools. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga also revealed this figure last week while responding to parliamentary questions from the DA.

Back then, Motshekga said she “cannot indicate precisely the reasons for this circumstance [why the schools aren’t offering maths] … This matter will be investigated and the reasons will be provided when the investigation is completed.”

The M&G has discovered two reasons for the situation.
Some schools simply do not have the necessary teachers while others deliberately drop maths and offer only the much easier maths literacy in an effort to improve their matric results.

A subsequent departmental press release stated that the analysis of the 2013 data confirmed that the number was not “353 but 227”. 

“The reasons for the differences in numbers were that some of the schools had been merged as part of the rationalisation process.”

‘Ambitious targets’
Lovemore said the department had taken “very positive action” to improve these figures.

“It has set ambitious targets, aiming, inter alia, to have 350 000 learners passing mathematics at National Senior Certificate level by 2024; a maths, science and technology directorate has been established; and a mathematics, science and technology grant, totaling R347-million for this financial year, has been made available to promote the teaching of these subjects.”

But these developments “cannot, on their own, effect the change we need if the DBE does not measure their effectiveness”, she said. 

“The DA will therefore also submit further parliamentary questions to find out why Motshekga is not gathering this important data.”

Victoria John

Victoria John

Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011. Read more from Victoria John

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