Poor pass rates: Don't blame mathematics

Belinda Bantham -- Mon, 07/10/2017 - 08:59

Poor pass rates: Don't blame mathematics

Why is mathematics being singled out as the main culprit for poor pass rates? This is the question asked by Prof Robert Balfour, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching-Learning, at the North-West University (NWU), after the Department of Basic Education (DBE) announced proposed changes to the passing requirements for Grades 7 to 9, specifically involving mathematics.

Prof Balfour and his team of experts expressed their concern regarding the proposed amendments for Grade 7 to 9 learners. These include the following:

·         Learners have to pass four subjects at 40%, one of which is a home language

·         Learners have to pass any other four subjects at 30%

·         Mathematics is removed as a compulsory promotion requirement

"Why is mathematics singled out as the main culprit for poor pass rates? If learners and teachers realise that they need not pass mathematics to pass the grade, teachers might spend less time on mathematics, which will impact negatively on learners' motivation to study mathematics," said Prof Balfour. 

"Learners in Grade 7 and even in Grade 8 are barely in the position to make an informed decision whether they are, or might become interested in the subject. A real interest in mathematics can only be fostered when comprehension thereof is achieved. With good and purposeful teaching of mathematics, perhaps a love - or at least an appreciation of mathematics - might be instilled in more learners. If mathematics teachers could apply their energy to support mathematically able learners with the demonstrated ability to pursue careers in which a high level of conceptual and conditional understanding of mathematics is required, this ideal could be better addressed than it is currently, " he continued.

Mathematics is deemed a sufficiently significant subject that all learners are expected to continue up to Grade 12, whether it be in the form of mathematics or mathematical literacy. Therefore, Prof Balfour and his teams ask: "If mathematics is important enough to be compulsory up to Grade 12, surely it is important enough that the learners are required to pass the subject in Grade 9 in order to progress with secondary school studies in the FET phase? It does not make sense to keep mathematics as a compulsory subject if its value and worth is diminished at the lower grades. This presents a mixed message. If this is the line of reasoning, perhaps the DBE should reconsider making mathematics compulsory up to Grade 12."

 Prof Robert Balfour.