Afrikaans matrics say ‘no thank you’ for mathematics

Henry

Fewer learners these days take mathematics up to matric, show figures from the Department of Basic Education. This trend is even more noticeable among learners in Afrikaans schools, where only a quarter (24%) of learners wrote mathematics in matric last year, compared to 36% nationally.

This worrying trend was highlighted in Solidarity’s School Support Center (SOS) matric report last week.

According to this, the percentage of Afrikaans matriculants who wrote mathematics in the final exam last year has decreased by almost ten percentage points since 2018, from 34.1% in 2018, to a mere 24.4% last year. In contrast, the number of Afrikaans matriculants taking mathematics literacy increased from 65.9% to 71.3% in the same period.

Nationally, the figures look slightly better, with 36% of matriculants writing mathematics last year, compared to 45.6% in 2018.

“Although Afrikaans schools achieve impressive achievements in mathematics, there is a noticeable tendency for a smaller percentage of Afrikaans learners to choose this subject, compared to the national average,” says the SOS’s report.

“This is worrying, especially as mathematics is a key subject that provides access to various complex and prestigious fields of study. By instead choosing mathematical literacy, a subject that is considered relatively easier, Afrikaans learners may be inadvertently excluding themselves from these opportunities.”

Johan Koekemoer, head of teaching and learning at the SOS, says the reasons for a drop in mathematics candidates, especially among Afrikaans learners, are multiple.

“It could be that schools encourage learners to take maths literacy, so that the pass rate looks better, or so that learners can get a higher TP score (for admission to university). For example, we see that law faculties are bursting at the seams, because matriculants can study it without having had pure mathematics at school.”

He says a lack of well-trained mathematics teachers, especially in the countryside, sometimes makes it very difficult for schools to offer mathematics and in some cases the subject is discontinued altogether. “Mathematics anxiety is also a real problem. Our children have enormous pressure to perform and can also lose selection due to political reasons. So children learn to do mathematics in environments that do not cultivate a love for the subject. In time, they leave the subject again.”

He also believes that the way in which mathematics is taught must change.

“Our teachers’ teaching strategy does not take into account the context of the child in front of them. In a new era we still continue with old practices. We still give homework instead of preparation and we still use white and blackboards to explain work instead of using dynamic software and new technology. In this way we make the subject inaccessible to the child in front of us.”

He suggests that parents and teachers encourage children to play outside more often, rather than sitting in front of the TV or doing homework. “This way children can develop sufficiently on a psychomotor level to accommodate mathematical thinking.”

Improvement in maths pass rate is gratifying

According to the SOS’s matric report, the 10% improvement in the national mathematics pass rate, from 53.5% in 2014 to 63.5% in 2023, is indeed gratifying. “We see a positive trend in the performance of learners in this core subject over the past ten years. In the past year alone, we have seen an 8.5% increase in the pass rate, as well as an increase in the number of candidates who achieved distinctions (3.5%). In addition, this is the largest percentage of learners who have achieved a distinction for mathematics in the last 30 years.

According to the report, mathematics plays an important role in the development of logical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills.

Afrikaans learners in particular got rid of their belongings. A total of 51.0% of the learners in Afrikaans schools achieve more than 50% in mathematics. This is 23 percentage points higher than the national figure of 27.9%. Half as many Afrikaans learners (16.5%) also failed mathematics, compared to national failures (36%). Afrikaans matriculants were also three times more likely to achieve a distinction for mathematics. One in ten Afrikaans matriculants (10%) who wrote mathematics received a distinction for it, compared to 3.5% of matriculants nationally.

“The consistently higher mathematics performance of Afrikaans schools can be attributed to competent teachers and the advantage of mother tongue teaching, which has a positive impact on learners’ academic success. Afrikaans schools produced a total of 19.1% of all mathematics distinctions in 2023, although they make up only 8% of schools,” the report states.

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