The Department of Basic Education has denied reports that more than 300 schools have “dropped” mathematics as a subject.

City Press reported on Sunday that an association for Afrikaans mathematics teachers, Vereniging vir Afrikaanse Wiskunde-onderwysers (VAW), claimed that it had obtained a list from the department that reveals this startling fact. VAW is an initiative of trade union Solidarity.

But on Monday, department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said this was a lie and that the report used by VAW dated from 2014.

Speaking to eNCA, Mhlanga said: “They are lying. They must give us a list of the schools so that we can talk facts.

“The minister set up a maths task team to establish all facts around maths development, the availability of teachers, material and how to improve it – five, six years ago already. As a result of that, we identified 330 schools that were not offering mathematics at all.

“On October 23, 2014, we sent out a circular to all our schools saying that all schools are supposed to offer mathematics – not even mathematical literacy. We said we needed to reduce the number of learners that were taking mathematical literacy and instead channel them to maths as per the National Development Plan requirements towards 2030. That circular remains in place. Any school that drops mathematics as a subject will find themselves in trouble.”

According to City Press, Michael le Cordeur, head of the department of curriculum studies in the education faculty at Stellenbosch University, said that his own research had also revealed that some schools no longer offered mathematics.

This trend appears to be attributable to the fact that increasing numbers of pupils are choosing to take maths literacy rather than “pure” mathematics.

Shortage of teachers

“Children choose the easier option, namely maths literacy, when they make choices about subjects in Grade 10.”

Last year, there were 14 178 fewer pupils who took pure mathematics in matric, while the number taking maths literacy increased by 6 362, compared to 2018.

Le Cordeur said he did not have figures, but that there was definitely a shortage of good mathematics teachers.

Chris Klopper, head of the Afrikaans teachers’ union SAOU, also said they did not have figures readily available.

“There are certainly enough teachers who call themselves mathematics teachers, but there definitely aren’t enough with the necessary in-depth knowledge of the field who are able to convey a love of the subject, or to reduce ‘mathematics anxiety’,” he told City Press.

However, Mhlanga said the department was training and recruiting more teachers. “We have worked with other organisations that specialise in maths to bring in more teachers to increase capacity at our schools and ensure that all of them offer mathematics.”

Mhlanga said the reason the 330 schools weren’t offering maths was because of a shortage of teachers at the time.

“We conducted an audit to find out how many maths teachers we have and found that we had some 130 000 teachers, but most of them were retiring.”

According to Mhlanga, the department started working with other organisations – including TEACH SA, the SA Maths Foundation and the Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Education – which had “changed the picture completely”.

Yet, more than half of the students (54.6%) who wrote mathematics for matric only managed to achieve a 30% mark.

‘Call the universities’

Asked about the poor results, Mhlanga said: “The teachers are trained by universities. Maybe you need to call them [universities] in to ask them what it is that they are teaching the maths students, because we receive them after they’ve been trained.

“What we do in the basic education sector is to train those teachers further [with] on-the-job training. Most teachers spend their holidays in workshops where they are taught how to teach mathematics. We have a plan and we are working on it.”

Mhlanga also denied that the department was putting pressure on teachers and schools to amend pass rates.

 – Compiled by Riaan Grobler

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