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Maths vs. Maths Literacy: the continuing debate

By Robyn Clark

With the Matric results being published last week, a long-running debate has again reared its head. Is Maths Literacy all that worthwhile? After all, many are opposed to it because it’s “dumbing down our students”. Is the Maths taught today the same as the Maths that you learnt at school?

Firstly, I think that Mathematical Literacy has been stigmatised by many people who have no idea what the subject is about. Secondly, Maths has changed, but not in the way that you think.

What is Maths Literacy?
Mathematical Literacy is a subject that uses mathematical concepts, and applies them to everyday situations. Mathematical Literacy is not an alternative to Standard Grade Mathematics; advocates suggest that it is an entirely new and independent subject. Typical lessons include:

  • How to buy a house, including calculating transfer fees, legal fees, and bond repayment amounts
  • The benefits and downfalls of Hire-Purchase
  • Reading and interpreting statistics in newspaper articles
  • How to calculate income tax

These lessons provide learners with the opportunity to become financially responsible and mathematically literate adults. Looking at the debt situation in South Africa, one can certainly see that these are sorely needed skills.

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.

Because of the highly technical and abstract nature of Pure Maths, one can draw the conclusion that Mathematical Literacy is actually more accessible in terms of language use than Pure Maths. For a large majority of learners in South Africa who are taught in English and not their home language, it may be easier for them to understand the everyday language that Maths Literacy uses, instead of the highly technical mathematical jargon that is part of Maths. This opens another debate altogether: whether Pure Maths should continue being taught in English, or if it should be taught in all of South Africa’s official languages.

Maths vs. Maths Literacy
Before the new curriculum (NSC) was introduced in 2008, learners could choose to take Maths on Higher Grade level, Standard Grade level or not at all. The “not at all” part is the scary statistic. In Aarnout Brombacher’s report on Maths and Maths Literacy,there were as many as 40% of learners who were taking no Maths at all during 2000 -2005. Furthermore, about half the learners who took Maths were taking it on the Standard Grade level. Over the period 2000 to 2005, the average percentage of learners out of the entire cohort of Matric exam candidates who got a mere pass in Higher Grade Maths was a dismal 5.2%.

Forcing learners to do Higher Grade Maths, “in order to keep all options open for tertiary education” was a common trend that actually set learners back, because failing Maths meant that there was no option for tertiary education at all. Hence the introduction of Mathematical Literacy.

Looking at the current situation, there is no longer an option to take Pure Maths on a Standard Grade level. Instead, only two mathematical subjects are offered: Pure Maths (which is on par with Higher Grade Maths) and Mathematical Literacy. It is compulsory to take one or the other. This means that every single Matric candidate is now getting some sort of mathematical education.

Jonathan Jansen’s recent article paints what he thinks is a dismal picture. The reality is that there are many more learners passing Pure Maths today than in the period 2000 – 2005. Jansen states that if one were to change the pass mark to 50%, only 8.38% of the entire cohort of Matric candidates would have passed Pure Maths. This is still greater than previously (5.2%), and is not an argument for exclusion of Mathematical Literacy. I’m not saying this is a pass mark to be proud of: we still have a lot to work towards. I’m saying that Mathematical Literacy shouldn’t be seen as a culprit in taking good learners away from Pure Mathematics.

Jansen has never had anything kind to say about Maths Literacy, which may be right if you’re from a high functioning school which offers Maths. High functioning schools have the resources to train the best Maths teachers, and get their hands on the latest calculators and computer software which assists in the teaching of Pure Maths. The reality is that Maths Literacy provides very necessary mathematical skills for learners who would never have had the opportunity to become mathematically literate before.

But has Pure Maths suffered?
Although a good set of critical thinking skills are still required in order to do well in Maths, many ask: “Is the maths that they’re doing now, the same Maths that I did in school?”. From a Maths teacher’s perspective, it’s hard to give a definitive answer. The NCS Pure Maths curriculum has changed. The curriculum is broader, and contains a wider range of mathematics. Statistics and Probability is now included, as well as Euclidian geometry on an optional basis.

In some ways, depth has been sacrificed for a broader curriculum, with the intention of covering more skills that may be required for employment or study after school. However, the argument that Pure Maths has been “dumbed down” is not altogether true as the same critical thinking skills are still needed to solve mathematical problems. Problems, however, arise from the fact that there are very few teaching resources available to teachers. Teachers were not adequately trained to teach the new curriculum and there is very little support out there for them, especially in rural areas of South Africa.

In other countries, Mathematics as a school subject is very different. Many different types of Maths are taught as different modules of the subject. Learners take the modules that they will need in their further education.

Perhaps the largest issue in 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.

Robyn Clark teaches high school Mathematics and Mathematical Literacy at Sekolo sa Borokgo, a small independent school in Randburg, Johannesburg. She is passionate about education in South Africa and is especially interested in the accessibility of Maths education. She is currently studying towards her MSc in mathematics education at the University of Witwatersrand.

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    • Judith

      Thanks for an insightful article which indicates that there is hope ahead! I once bought 3 towels in Polokwane which were selling at a third off the normal price. It took me almost an hour to pay for them as the tills were not working and no calculator was available. I had to go through the process step by painful step with the shop assistant to convince her that she only had to charge me for two of them.

      She was white and a product of apartheid education

    • Khalsa Singh

      The typical lessons/skills afforded by Maths Literacy (whatever the hell that is) can be performed with my primary school level maths. Only a small percentage of matriculants need higher grade Maths, so who cares if no specialises in Maths in Matric. Maths should be compulsory until Standard 8 and then kids should choose depending on their career paths.
      Yes, we need medical doctors and engineers…..but these university places are already quickly filled up by our top performers. The rest of the rabble can study law, journalism, commerce, political science and or sweep streets….these too are important professions for society to function (except politics I guess), yet they dont require higher grade Maths. I still remember my primary school geography and history even though its been 20 years.

    • Dr Devi Rajab

      This is an excellent article which clearly outlines the larger implications for educating youth to handle the every day challenges of life. I recall being taught pure mathematics so badly that even today as a professional I tend to shy away from this subject. Mathematical literacy may be a way of breaking this fear and making the general population more proficient in numeracy. I recall in our school years the Gujerati speaking children in the Indian community learnt mathematical literacy in the vernacular at an early age and when they arrived at formal school they simply calculated in their language and translated into English. They were impressive in the speed with which they arrived at answers. Needless to say they often topped the class in pure maths.
      Thank you for stimulating this important discussion.

    • Dan

      Maths Literacy sounds like exactly what was required. Many people struggle with pure mathematics, and the reality is that many people will never need it. Having practical mathematics though is invaluable to everyone. And it appears maths literacy is exactly that.

      Back when I was at school they switched pupils to standard grade if they weren’t coping with higher grade (assuming they even opted to try higher grade initially), alternatively if you continued with higher grade, and failed the exam they’d do a standard grade conversion. They also held people back if they thought they were going to fail Matric. This is all decades ago, so Jansen’s complaints against the current practices seem a little odd.

      I’m also not sure the pass requirement has changed since my school days. I’ve been told it was 50% in the early 70s, but I remember it being 40% for higher grade. I also remember my dad looking at my school mathematics curriculum and commenting that he only did some of that stuff at tertiary level, so they’ve obviously been expanding it over time.

    • Fiona

      Robyn, thank you for a sane article. I’m so tired of the elitist, ignorant criticism of Maths Literacy (still a stupid name for the subject though).

    • Toni Benoni

      Robyn, would you let your kid do just maths literacy in matric? seriously? Pure maths has worked for over 2000 years to make the elite the elite, and to produce economically useful people in the professions. How come black kids don’t need these skills? is africa so unique?

    • Perry Curling-Hope

      I believe the writer is confusing mathematics with arithmetic and basic numeracy.

      Abstract conjecture in the development of mathematics is language bound…the concepts and the languages used in their expression develop in parallel.

      In an endeavour to ‘level the playing field’, one cannot simply switch to some or other ‘mother tongue’ in the event that such language has not been developed along with the mathematics with which one is trying to work.

    • Anton

      There is no doubt that Maths Literacy is better than no mathematics at all. I am puzzled though, by the attack on Prof Jansen. I read his article and see no reference to Maths Literacy. Instead he makes the perfectly valid point that the overwhelming majority of those who leave school have not mastered basic quantitative processes. SAfricans are at the bottom of the heap in international league tables and, frankly, are unemployable in any of the knowledge-intensive jobs that will dominate the 21st century. The average 9-year old in Europe, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia etc is more adept at maths than the average matriculant in SA. This is no exaggeration. There is zero prospect that a prosperous society will be built on the back of this abysmal failure. Bravo Prof Jansen for pointing out this inconvenient but important truth!

    • gareth louw

      I’m afraid I cannot agree that Pure Maths as it now exists is even remotely on a par with higher grade maths as it used to be. I have been teaching maths for close on 13 years through the old and new curriculum. It is true that the new curriculum is broader and shallower but the difficulty level is far below the standards of the previous examination papers both in the case of government and the IEB. The new standard is probably on a par with standard grade maths – maybe a little higher. It is easy to see this in practice as one examines the entry requirements for degrees. Where previously a C in higher grade maths was the entrance required now an A is required and similarly with other degrees the symbol is one or two higher than before. I agree that there is a place for mathematical literacy but we should have retained the higher and standard grade levels as well at least in difficulty levels. So although the passe rate is similar to that of the old syllabus the decrease in difficulty effectively means that the bar has been set lower.

    • Peter Joffe

      Maths or Maths Literacy is a question but reading, writing and arithmetic are not (RRR)and it appears that we are not teaching this in schools.
      If you cannot read, or write or do simple sums then you are doomed to a life of doing nothing or demonstrating for better services ?
      Is ‘maths’ a fancy word for arithmetic. If so we should still teach arithmetic inside maths. The times table used to be a requirement but now it is replaced with an electronic calculator. How to count comes from parents in the youngest years of their children’s upbringing but when the parent cannot count or read or write (RRR) we have a serious problem.
      I have found on my many visits to shops that many tellers cannot add or subtract in their heads and they have to pull out their calculators.
      Spend 75.76 on goods and present a R100.00 note and many people cannot work out the change without resorting to a calculator. Fortunately for them, today, most tills will do this for them but it is still a basic, simple need to be able to do so. One of the basic, simple principles is to know what the answer is – more or less so that errors can be easily avoided.

    • Paleface

      In my days at school we had “Arithmetics” as a subject up to Std 8 (Grade 10) This was in addition to Maths which I did to matric. From what I can see this was close to the new Functional Maths of today.
      Pure Maths is a subject that you either have the ability to grasp or you dont.
      I have a son who simply did not get it. He failed Functional Maths no matter what. He is, however, artistic and today he is the Artistic co-ordinator of an advertising company in London where his work involves intricate computer programmes for which one would presume you would need to have a maths background.
      My daughter excelled at maths – a distinction in matric. She is currently studying BVsc at Onderstepoort.
      Both have been successful in their own way and proves you don’t need maths to succeed.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      The choice should be pure Maths, or accountancy/bookkeeping.

      Maths literacy, as you describe it, sounds like something that should be taught in Life Skills.

      What children need to learn BEFORE chosing is basic arithmentic – adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, AND PERCENTAGES !

      It is incredible to me how neither adults or children understand percentages!

      For example – it is no point Africa congratulating itself on a 4 percent growth rate if its population growth is 7 percent!

      Nor on a 4 percent growth rate if its GDP has dropped 200 percent since the end of colonisation!

      Take the “unequality” and Gini Co-efficiency debate and how it is misunderstood!

      Back in about 1994 the highest Gini -Coefficiencies were Zimbabwe and Brazil.

      Zimbabwe because all were becoming poor – they have since fallen off the radar and give no figures.

      Brazil because it was GROWING economically! Historically EVERY successful country developed a RICH class first BEFORE the poor got uplifted!

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    • MLH

      By the end of primary school all pupils should be able to work out any arithmetical problem given a formula, so it is my belief that they should be able to work out all the everyday things that Clark says belong in the maths literacy nest. That they are now allowed to use calculators in schools only dumbs down their brain cells.
      My son got into the habit of telling me, while he was at school, that their syllabus is far more difficult now because so much maths has been invented since I matriculated forty years ahead of him, so thank you, Gareth Louw, for setting us straight. He was a lazy little sod, after all.
      I once worked for a civil engineering company before pocket calculators had hit the scene. Because I am slightly dyslexic (as you can see by my typing when I am tired), I caculated everything mentally or is small sums on a rough piece of paper. I used to have the explain to my director how I came by my answers. When he checked them on his adding machine, mine proved to be more exact.
      I listened to a teenager selling nectarines yesterday: a box of nine was R27. He couldn’t work out the price of one or two. Ag shame!

    • Jason

      I was searching ‘maths’ on twitter and came across this article. I matriculated last year (Class of 2011) and found your article to be very interesting. I unfortunately didn’t get a distinction for maths but did get a solid B. I can tell you that the maths I did in grade 7, 8 and 9 (before I could choose subjects) is very similar to that of maths lit – dealing with Data (statistics) and Financial Maths (simple interest vs compound interest). I therefore believe that everything that is covered in the math lit syllabus from grade10 up un till matric can be incorporated into the maths syllabus of younger grades without taking the focus away from algebra and geometry as it would just be an ‘extension’ of the work that’s already being covered.. As for the rest of the math lit syllabus – things such as measurement ,the calculation of area and perimeter without any unknowns and the reading off of graphs.. I believe this is covered sufficiently at a primary school level and is a waste of time being re-taught at a high school level.

    • peter nel

      With Debt relief counselors claiming that 95% of their clients have an average of 13 accounts and are experiencing severe stress in handling their debt problems with the emphasis on bond repayments, it is obvious that maths literacy or even simple arithmetic is beyond their understanding. If they do have such problems then they should contact their nearest financial advisor who can explain to them in clear terms how to handle their affairs and avoid debt. All they need to understand is that spending more than they earn is a bad idea, credit cards are a bad idea, accounts are a bad idea and discovering the difference between what they need and what they want is something that they need to be taught or they just need to learn that the hard way. Using a home as an atm is not the way to go and going to the mall without a list of what one needs to buy is a no-no.

    • Johan Smit

      Thank you for a well written article. Math lit is a wonderful subject which equips those learners who would not have taken maths previously, to become numerate.Teaching maths in a contextualised way is an approach used in many countries around the world. In South Africa maths is still taught in the old fashion as it was done 50 years ago. Mathematical literacy is however maths offered in contexts. When young people enter the real world, the majority does not have to have to use algebra or trigonomitry in the place of work or in their private lives. They however have to be able to make basic calculations.
      I start to question Jonathan Jansen’s academic insights. As a well respected academic, he makes the wildest statements about maths lit which has never been tested scientifically. In a resent speech in Cape Town he claims that math lit gives learners a feeling of inferiority! It seems that he does not want to give any credit for a subject that serves a lot of students who would not have taken maths in the previous dispensation.
      I think we should change the name of the subject to NUMERACY of Quantitative Literacy in order to get Jonathan off his soapbox and to leave the subject alone.
      I actually think that ALL learners should take maths lit, even those who take core maths. Remember, if a person can do maths, he is not necessarily numerate, and when a person is numerate, he cannot necessarily do maths.

    • Thandinkosi Sibisi

      There is no doubt that Maths litt imparts useful lifeskils for those who have no need , inclination or possibly aptitude for the more esoteric aspects of pure mathematics.No doubt those of us who find quadratic equations challenging would certainly not relish the prospect of dealing with complex numbers , non-Euclidean geometry and n dimensional space.

      However I find the statement ” For a large majority of learners in South Africa who are taught in English and not their home language, it may be easier for them to understand the everyday language that Maths Literacy uses, instead of the highly technical mathematical jargon that is part of Maths”, very strange to say the least

      This is NOT an argument for the teaching of necessary mathematical skills to those who do not have the inclination, need and/or aptitude for doing maths (of all races) but an argument for offering maths litt to black learners presumably because they do not have the necessary understanding of English to comprehend the intricacies and subtleties of Mathematics (or worse).Put differently it is NOT A DEFENCE of the decision to offer Maths Litt in the curriculum but a statement of an opinion about why black learners do badly in maths compared to their white and indian counterparts.

      Mathematical concepts as the author of this “defence of maths Litt righly points out are “technical concepts” not “English concepts”.All learners have to be taught technical concepts by competent teachers…

    • S Moodley

      If one considers the number of learners who begin school in the same year. and then the number who actually matriculate in the prescribed minimum period, we then see that this number is extremely low. We would’ve had the luxury of blaming the remnants of the apartheid “Bantustan” schooling system up until the early 90s, but now the time has come for us to place blame solely on the so-called democratically elected government, what with the accusations of stolen ballot papers during the last three elections. The bottom line is rudimentary mathematics (read: math literacy) shortchanges any learner who has made the mistake of choosing this subject of even more survival skills needed in the real world. Math literacy is devoid of the beauty of formal logic that separates humans from the rest of the animals on Earth. It is only out of the aforesaid logic that basic reasoning skills are developed. Thus, in a society lacking for the most part citizens who cannot reason, understand, and act on decisions based on logic, we are doomed to catastrophe, a la Zimbabwe and more recently the Maldives. We need to aim for an even more secular state since the atrocity and delusion called “religion” is the basis of all destruction in these times. We need to lobby for an act that will make “normal” math compulsory for ALL learners, for even a student who has not done well in this type of math will be far better equipped than a math “literacy” A student. We’re screwed, otherwise.

    • Graham Johnson

      The comment, “…The reality is that there are many more learners passing Pure Maths today than in the period 2000 – 2005. Jansen states that if one were to change the pass mark to 50%, only 8.38% of the entire cohort of Matric candidates would have passed Pure Maths…” is misleading in racial breakdown.

      Consider this, “In 2006, only 4,8% passed higher-grade maths, and only 5,7% passed higher-grade science, Finweek’s report says.”

      Then quote, “…Natalie Zimmelman, project director for transformation at Saica. The winners will be awarded bursaries to study accountancy at university.

      “We aim this Olympiad very specifically at black and coloured learners, it’s a part of our broader strategy for transformation in the sector.”

      Zimmelman said of the 27 000 chartered accountants registered with SAICA, 25 497 were white, 2 405 Indian, 857 black and 788 coloured. “In 2006, there were 700 African students who passed maths on higher grade with a C or more in the country”.

      If you look at the average, about two will get to be chartered accountants,” Zimmelman said.”

      That’s nothing like the picture Robyn is painting.

    • Putuma

      I like the clarification given here, because I never quite understood what Mathematical Literacy (ML) was and why it was a necessary addition to the Matric syllabus. Personally, I still don’t think it teaches students anything they wouldn’t learn doing Mathematics, but I guess it fills the gap for the students who just cannot handle Mathematics. It helps that they say more people are passing Mathematics now (even if a paltry 8%), but I doubt that is related to Mathematics Literacy. So, we are still stuck where we were: South African students are still not grasping Mathematics, at least not enough to be competitive. ML is OK to increase chances of some awareness, but the problem persists with our poor education output performances in not just Mathematics, but in the Sciences and Engineering in general. This country is dead if we cannot solve that problem.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      To go back to the importance of basic arithmetic and percentages, here are a few more examples.

      The ANC government is finding out that 80 percent of new businesses fail. I could have told them that 17 years ago – these are consistent stats that every liquidator knows in any “free market/competative” system.

      A would be entrepreneur decides that for example there are 20 security companies making money in his city, so he starts one on the basis that security companies make money, not taking into account that he will have 20 already established competitors, and that they represent only the 20 percent that have not failed. Which is why Apartheid South Africa PROTECTED farming and food security and certain key industries.

      South Africa has had over 700 Rhinos killed in the last 2 years by poachers BECAUSE one Rhino horn is worth 2 million rand – so 700 is worth 1,400,000,000 rand. The state and a few game rangers do not have the money to protect them. If they get farmed, private enterprise will protect them, and the more there are the less incentive for poachers.

      But this is BASIC ARITHMETIC not Maths!

    • MLH

      Loved Jason’s comment and I hasten to add that I believe this post to be one of the more worthwhile ones I have seen recently on TL.
      I don’t see the argument being as to whether the content of the Maths Lit course is necessary or not, of course it’s necessary, but I would suggest at a younger age. Why do we make it easier and easier for matriculants to qualify? By doing so, we encourage mindsets like S. Moodley’s above: ‘citizens who cannot reason, understand, and act on decisions based on logic’. I’m also not sure that Zimbabweans have a lesser grasp of arithmetic than other countries. They did manage to calculate a daily ever-increasing interest rate far better than I probably would! And possibly better than many other South Africans would.
      While English as a second language has been touted as the crutch upon which science and maths are too difficult for many, I think we do these kids a disservice. Push them harder, demand more of them and you could be surprised at the rewards that follow. Many manage quite convoluted language and thought processes in geography and history…unless terms in those subjects have been dumbed down as well since I was at school.
      Perhaps their teachers just need a far better grasp of the language. While I personally don’t care what language they learn and write in. expecting little of these kids by way of English is condemning them to a far narrower future. And that’s a real shame!

    • Marker

      Thanks for the article and perspective. I have only personal experience to go on but that was horrifying enough.

      In 2010 I was hired by an in-bound call centre to do language skills training. All their new hires were recent matriculants. All had passed at least Maths Literacy. Not one of 30 could calculate compound interest at 10% on R1000 over 5 years (with no payment on the initial capital to complicate things). I ended up having to teach Maths Literacy to matriculants who had supposedly passed it.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      The whole pressure on “mother tongue” education, and not English, comes from 2 sources – black racists and Afrikaners trying to push blacks out of English into “mother tongue” so they can preserve Afrikaans.

      Afriforum has listed another lot of stats showing children learn better in “mother tongue”. I am willing to bet all those stats come from research on Afrikaner children, and have no relevance to black children at all.

      Afrikaans, which comes from Dutch, follows “European” grammar patterns and has a wealth of literature and scientific manuscripts and terms. When I worked in Amsterdam in my 20s I could understand Dutch and even joined the library and took books out in Dutch which I could read. I can’t read a word of German let me point out – people confuse the two languages and cultures all the time.

      A child learning in Zulu or Venda will not have the advantages needed in a global world.

    • Goolam Dawood

      Frankly, most of the Doctor, Lawyers, Chartered Accountants and other professionals I’ve met, are more adept at using a calculator than they are Calculus, Algebra and Statistics. Its a beautiful science, but the real world value add is close to nil.

    • benzo

      Thanks for your article.

      “Teachers were not adequately trained to teach the new curriculum and there is very little support out there for them, especially in rural areas of South Africa”

      Why change the curriculum if you do not have trained teachers?

      Math’s litteracy sounds like teaching “applied arithmetic” and should be compulsary with a ban on the use of pocket calculators in Priamry schools. Skills to be acquired? Adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying supported by learning tables till 20 from top of the head. Call it “numeracy”

    • Nadine

      I am in grade 12.
      Mathematics CORE is essential to surviving this cut-throat, capitalistic world.
      Maths literacy is a pathetic excuse.

      Do maths literacy…then don’t complain when universities put you on the ‘waiting list’.
      You CAN pass maths if you work hard, as 50% is routine/level 1 procedure.

      Do Maths Core, and there’ll be NO uncertainty, NO judging and NO waiting lists.
      It’s your choice.

    • Lee

      My son failed grade 9, 2011 as a result of failing maths. He got 26 for maths and passed 7 other Learning areas with 40 and above and he got 30 for NS. I am extremely upset about this because I feel that the school should have promoted him on condition that he does maths literacy in grade 10. It is not fair that a child should be retained because of one subject and also the fact that he has an alternative “maths lit” in grade 10. Not everyone is strong in pure maths and I think the school should’ve been promoted him. I have 2 other report cards from children of different schools that also failed grade 9 maths but they were still promoted to grade 10, what kind of message is that sending to son and these children are his friends, so according to him it feels as though something is wrong with him. In one instance the one child failed 3 subjects including maths but was still promoted… We fall under one juristiction and the law should be applied over the board what applies to him should apply to all grade 9 students, unfortunately it does not work like that. Forgive me but I am extremely upset about this!! I need some urgent assistance w.r.t. this matter….

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    • Moniki

      Sadly, I will have to agree with Prof Jansen. He has a valid point. Being a maths and science teacher and giving extra lessons to learners from lots of different schools in Pretoria (23 to be exact), I have seen with my own eyes and to my own astonishment how relentless schools can be to better their pass rate. A learner who could get 60% for math (with a little hard work) is forced to drop the subject (along with science, of course) and take math lit and business studies (please do not tell me this is unfamiliar, I’ve seen it happen to hundreds!). All this to maintain that shiny 100% pass rate. Teachers get mean to these kids, nail them on every possible inconceivable thing (like in science – meter per second or units like that – the dot should be EXACTLY in the middle, if it’s not you get zero), then principals get involved if the learner still doesn’t drop the subject. Calling parents and talking nonsense like “better TPT” or “more university options” (for real?!!!) if the learner drops to Math lit and gets a distinction. I’ve even seen schools who (if the learner is real hardheaded and continues with math or science even through all this trauma) write the learner in for matric under another schools’ name! The schools are sick – that is the problem in SA. It’s all about money and pass rates, to the detriment of the learners.

    • jason

      maths lit is pathetic

    • Sol

      I teach in a school where learners do Physical Sciences with Maths Literacy. Instead of learners failing both Maths and Science, they can fail only Science and pass Maths Literacy. So Maths Literacy is actually used to lift the results.

    • http://[email protected] Nyala

      Yes! I agree with moniki, the high school that I went to did exactly that to me I completed my matric in 2009 with accounting, business studies and Mlit. In grades 7,8 and nine I was one of the top students in the physical sciences, life sciences and mathematics as the were called NS and MLMMS, was never interested in EMS hence I had very low marks in that subject in grades 7,8,9 I always achieved an 80% or 70 or 60% if I was really bad for natural science and maths, when we got to grade 10 we were forced to take Mlit which I wud have never chosen if it wasn’t for the school, and it was already too late to apply to another school, and now I’m in university doing a BA degree, but was accepted for a diploma in economics which I ditched! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I wud be doing a BA degree but I’m stuck with it I’m not even enjoying it. I feel as if I had done mathematics atleast in grade 12 I would have managed a 60%, I feel so robbed and cheated but there’s nothing I can do to change my circumstance now! Only because the school wanted a 100% pass rate, the only managed a 98% pass rate in my matric year, so they still didn’t get what they want!!! The only careers propspects one has with MLIT is BA degree,Diploma, Law degreeand design!

    • Lisa

      I’m a highschool student. And here’s my two cents: I chose Maths literacy instead of math. Why? BECAUSE MATH IS DIFFICULT. Because the work we do in maths is constantly changing. I consider maths to be like the HIV virus. No one can find a cure because it’s constantly changing it’s form. It’s the same with math. Kids can’t keep up with math because it’s constantly changing. And to top it off when it comes to writing exams, we write about work we’ve never even done before. And YOU TEACHERS AND PARENTS put so much pressure on us to get 99.99999999% for maths I was going to take math until a TEACHER told me: “Don’t take maths, you’re to stupid to take it.” At that time my average for maths was 66,2%. So if you ask me if maths literacy is “MAKING KIDS DUMBER?” then I’d say no. I mean it’s better to have a maths lit educated student, than to have one that’s not even educated at all, or even worse a dead student. Kids aren’t robots, so don’t try to make us work like them.

    • Nina

      I’m a grade 10 learner and I take pure maths. I understand that not everyone can be good at maths which is why learner rather opt to take maths lit. I don’t really have a problem with maths lit but it makes people LAZY. Learners who take maths lit have this perception that maths lit is so easy which results in them not studying. In the end, they do just as bad as people who take pure maths. So how does maths lit actually benefit people? There are some learners who want to take pure maths but decide not to because of a teacher saying their marks aren’t good enough, which is wrong. I feel that those learners should rather try pure maths then change to maths lit if they see it’s not working for them. The work people do in maths lit is just an extension of the maths and EMS that is done in primary school and who wants to learn that stuff again. Pure Maths is actually quite interesting and you learn something new everyday. Pure Maths also gives you more careers to choose from. This is why pure maths is better than maths lit or as I feel it should be called: MATHS LITE.

    • sandile

      I’m in grade 11 doing m.lite.I jus dd a reseach about mlite and its recruitment in tertiary and they are very limited.I’m worried about my future.I’m thinking of reapiting grade 11 n take pure maths

    • P Pather

      I completed my Matric in 2004 and was one of the students that did pure Maths on standard grade. Teachers ( In government schools) lack skills for proper teaching. My Mathematics teacher in Grade 9 would explain the examples in the text books and not explain to the point that each student understood which resulted in mojority of the students failing or just scrapping through. However the next year we had a different teacher with a different approach. It felt like we were in pre-school again. She would use props, etc. to explain which made grade 10 maths seem like grade 1 maths. The subject become fun to do and all the students were eager to get their exam results which we all passed with flying colors. Unfortunately she left after the second term and we were back to square one. If you were subjected to bad teaching for a year or two, it is very difficult to recover and gain a good understanding of the subject. Therefore I agree with S Moodley. The fault lies with the education department. It is the same dilema with the shortage of good doctors in the public sector. There is no support from the government.

    • Math therapy

      If students understand mathematics concept they can easily solve maths literacy problems. Very useful post!

    • Neilwe

      To everyone critisizing maths lit, it is not a useless subject, i know for a fact i wont need pure mathematics, so why should i put myself under pressure to get to my destnation(career). A society is made up of a hiarachy we cannot all be at the top. Since grade 10 my teachers have tried to move me to pure maths, Im a bright student capable of achieving a 90 in ALL subjects including pure maths, its a decision I made, not because im lazy but because i have my mind firmly set on my future and i dont need pure maths so stop judging and shut up p.s: i have been accepted to all niversities i applied to, no questions asked. thats for the idiot who said maths klit will put me on a waiting list. Im in matric by the way :)

    • Neilwe

      *universities and *lit

    • Thabo

      I’m was in grade 9 at a different school this year and next I’m going to another school I really want to do pure maths I got 54% for maths but the school say it must be 56 and above what must I do?

    • Frank

      Im a Zimbabwean. We did pure Maths from Grade One to Advanced Level. It was tough, but it helped us alot. Most of us can do basic calculations even though we did not become engineers and doctors.
      The pass rate was 50% in every subject. No matter how difficult the paper was, it never went down and this forced us to work extra hard to get at least a (C) which is a 50% pass.
      Without offending anyone, I feel Maths Literacy in South Africa is more like a way of nurturing laziness and thereby present an illusion that all is well. In the real world, a matric student with a 33% pass in maths literacy wont stand a chance with a Grade 7 Zimbabwean learner who is good at crunching the numbers…thats a fact and will always be.
      My point is that the South African government abolition Maths literacy and make pure Maths compulsory from grade one onwards.

    • cola

      im at a lost so how will mlit help or rather can it help a child thats lazy for pure maths

    • sindy

      I am a mathematical literacy educator, I had a problem first teaching the subject, which was not supposed to be because I did pure maths in high school and university. This is a clear indication that the mathematics that we learn from school is not good enough to make us mathematical literate. There are simple real life situation problems that a learner doing mathematics can not solve. Yes problem solving require mathematics, but what about the everyday life situation. Our pure maths can make our learners to be critical thinkers, but it is true that it leaves a gap below to just practically solve real life problems. I have come to understand that mathematicl literacy can assist many learners to be what ever they want to be as a stepping stone to a better understanding of abstract topics on pure maths, as it provides the basic understanding of how operational signs functionm

    • kim-Lynn

      As a matric student myself who has gone through my options concerning my studies, I have learnt that maths literacy is not an oppressive subject but one that makes ones life easier. It is only the ignorant who will judge a subject based on what they have heard and NOT experienced. I am lucky to attend a good school, those who do maths Literacy should not be ashamed. Pure math learners should focus on their own work, It is after all each to his own.

      You feel that maths literacy is for “dummies”? good for you, move on. To everyone else do not let all the negativity and the stigmas attached to this subject discourage you :)

    • Gwen Smith

      Why can the children not learn as we did in the old days. We all learnt our time tables off by heart which i can still remember. When we went to std 6 (grade 8) we started to learn science and did arithmetic. In std 7 (grade 9) we could choose to stay with arithmetic and/or do Geography, Algebra etc.

    • anelisa

      maths literacy is used to lift up the results…………………..however it is fine if it is done with the corresponding learning areas such as history geography, bussiness i know many people who have done these subjects and are successful

    • Johan

      i do not think this article is accurate, in the province of kzn, many stuents each year fail maths core and look to maths lit as a way of being promoted to the next grade. i strongly believe that this article is made up of assumptions rather than facts

    • Johan

      Times have changed drastically, Gwen Smith.