The Importance of Mathematics

<img src="mathematics.jpg" alt="Mathematics" width="300" height="200">

The importance of mathematics proficiency

One hundred critical and scarce skills are identified as being necessary for the South African economy to grow. Ninety-three of these skills include passing mathematics by at least 50%. However, there was a steady decline in the number of Grade 12 students taking mathematics as a subject since 2012.

In 2014, only 12% of 2014 matric students achieved more than 50% in the maths exams. The Minister of Education confirmed that 327 public and some low-cost private schools offer maths literacy only, instead of pure mathematics. The reason may be that these schools do not have the required qualified staff for teaching maths. It is, therefore, easier to teach mathematical literacy instead.

The current number of qualified mathematics teachers is unknown and projections of the number of suitably qualified teachers needed to teach at this level is not available.

What are the socio-economic implications for South Africa if this situation continues?

  • A declining economy because the need for technical skills where maths proficiency is key is not met
  • Rising unemployment
  • Unemployable young people are released annually from high schools and further education institutions
  • The labour market cannot accommodate them with their current level of skills.
  • Xenophobia and social unrest
  • Increased poverty
  • Health deterioration
  • Increased dependence on state resources

Suggestions to address the shortage of mathematically proficient citizens:

  • Develop and include mathematical concepts in indigenous languages. Universities should focus on developing syllabuses to this effect.
  • Gather data and do projections for the number of teachers needed for teaching mathematics up to Grade 12
  • Supplying teachers capable of teaching maths in their mother tongue should be the focus of universities and teaching colleges
  • Include indigenous languages in the teaching syllabus from Grade 1 to 12. Every child or student should be taught in his mother tongue.

The education system’s inability to deliver tutoring in the mother tongue of the pupils is at the root of the problem. Universities and colleges should take urgent action to address this shortcoming.

Teachers should have the ability to teach, but who should teach the teacher?