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Last week Wednesday, 12 March, False Bay College in Cape Town hosted a Principals Breakfast with topics such as the "maths crisis" in our country coming to the fore. The long-running debate about the relevance of Maths Literacy was discussed among educators with questions about whether Maths Literacy was worthwhile? Whether it encourage students to settle for less than they are capable of? And if Maths Literacy offers false promises to students wanting to apply for specific courses at a tertiary level?

These were just some of the questions that were raised and discussed as frustrations were evident among teachers and principals about their students not being admitted into courses because they had Maths Literature instead of Pure Maths. So has the route of Maths Literature failed our learners and excluded them from studying courses such as Engineering or Accounting?

According to Cassie Kruger, Principal and CEO of False Bay College, students completing matric with Maths Lit. are not excluded from applying for those courses and can be accepted, but the majority of applicants that make it into those courses are those who have Pure Maths as a subject. Colleges are not trying to be exclusive in their application process but find that those students who have Maths Lit. struggle to bridge the gap and keep up with the standard that is required for Engineering for example. Colleges also admit that they do filter the applications so as to accept learners that will see it through to the end of their degree or diploma.

Kruger commented that many of the students that apply for courses such as Engineering are often funded by public organisations such as NSFAS who contribute thousands of rands per year to their tertiary education. When students fail to complete their studies because of the challenge of keeping up with the requirements then those funds are lost and the investment placed in those student reaps no reward for the state and the economy as a return. If the state is to invest in students it seems only fair that they should expect a "return on investments" as it were. This is one of the reason, Kruger stated, for being somewhat "exclusive" when considering candidates with Pure Maths vs. Maths Literature for certain courses were a higher standard of mathematical skills is required.

So what does this mean for the thousands of students taking Maths Literature at schools throughout the country? Has the education department introduced an alternative to Pure Maths, for those who struggle in this subject, only for it to be seen as insufficient for tertiary education?

erhaps the biggest problem surrounding Maths Literature is the lack of understanding about this subject. While it does not focus on as technical an approach as Pure Maths, it still uses mathematical concepts and applies them to every day situations.

In the curriculum statement, the Department of Education gives their definition of Mathematical Literacy: Mathematical Literacy provides learners with an awareness and understanding of the role that mathematics plays in the modern world. Mathematical Literacy is a subject driven by life-related applications of mathematics. It enables learners to develop the ability and confidence to think numerically and spatially in order to interpret and critically analyse everyday situations and to solve problems.

So while it looks at different aspects of maths and critical thinking it still provides students with the necessary skills sorely needed in our country such as financial management, Hire-Purchase and interpreting statistics.

<>So are students just being encouraged to take Maths Literature the minute they struggle to maintain the grades for Pure Maths? This is a complicated discussion as many factors such as some schools having fewer resources available to teachers, or teachers that are not adequately trained to teach the curriculum - especially in rural areas - means students have no choice but to take Maths Literature even though they may be competent in Pure Maths.

Should this leave them at a disadvantage?

Perhaps the biggest issue with the South African Maths crisis is not the willingness of learners to learn, but the lack of support the Department of Education gives to its schools and teachers in order for Maths Literature not to be a fall back or set back.

By Odette Bester

What is you opinion about Pure Maths vs. Maths Literature?

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