Conscience of a Centrist: Maths and science maketh an economy

Johannesburg – A country’s entire economy and growth revolve around different aspects of mathematics.

We must be worried that our children continue to show dismal output for the key subjects of maths and science, particularly in the age of the fourth industrial revolution.

We can ill-afford to have a generation of students and workers who can’t compete in these key subject areas.


The latest matric results showed that the physical science pass rate dropped from 75.5% in 2019 to 65.8% in 2020, while the number of candidates passing maths declined from 54.6% to 53.8%.

It is easy for the government to blame the decline on Covid-19 and its impact on teaching and learning, but the fact is that the system has struggled to achieve excellence in these key subjects, which the government calls gateway subjects.

The role of mathematics in national, regional and international developments has become more evident in contemporary societies.

The system continues to engage in the blame game while our kids are falling behind.

Is it fair to blame the teachers when school boards and principals, and by extension the ministry of education, continue to employ individuals to teach mathematics who are qualified in areas other than maths education?

How effective are those teachers who lack the requisite training for content and methodology?

South Africa is on the wrong track and must own up to its failures to invest enough resources in equipping maths and science teachers. Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande and President Cyril Ramaphosa have been at pains on the importance of pupils studying the “correct” subjects.

“As we review the matric results, one of the prominent indicators of quality is how the country is doing in these STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects,” Ramaphosa told teachers this week.

“If we are to seize the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution, our education system must be reoriented towards its development in our country.”

What the president fails to realise is that we are not producing a pipeline of pupils who will be able to successfully pursue these careers.

It is folly to think we can have a work force of the fourth industrial revolution when most schools are not centres of excellence in subjects that matter.

South Africa must accept that it will not achieve quality outcomes at matric level if it does not invest adequately in quality teaching and learning of mathematics at the foundation phase.

Mathematical knowledge is hierarchical in nature.

If one lacks the foundational knowledge and concepts, there is very little hope that this can be remedied at senior grades.

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