Is being smart elitist?
by, 12-09-2007 at 08:23 AM (3147 Views)
The Education Department recently announced that this will be the last year that SA’s matric candidates can write additional mathematics. The reason: It was “elitist”. Government preaches more focus on Mathematics and Science, but I guess it should just not be too tough.
Here is the article in full (written by Sue Blaine from Business Day):
THIS will be the last year that SA’s matric candidates can write additional mathematics, a subject that has helped many a first-year engineering and science student, as part of the matric curriculum and have their marks reflected on their matric certificates.
From next year those who write the subject, under the new name, Advanced Mathematics Programme (APM), will have to study the subject as an extramural, and if they want recognition for their hard work, pay to write the APM exam set by the Independent Examination Board (IEB) and present an additional certificate noting their results to tertiary education institutions.
The education department has decided to can the subject as part of the curriculum because it was “elitist”, and has introduced a new curriculum which makes compulsory one of two mathematics subjects — mathematics or mathematics literacy, says Aarnout Brombacher, chairman of the Association for Mathematics Education of SA’s curriculum committee.
The decision, however, caused a problem because the new mathematics curriculum is broader than the old mathematics higher grade curriculum, and most South African mathematics teachers were not ready to teach some of the new topics the curriculum introduced, he says.
To help, the education department has split the new mathematics curriculum into core and optional topics — the core being most of the old higher grade topics, but without some of the geometry — and has stipulated that, at least until 2010, only the core topics are compulsory.
The idea is that from January 2010 the core and the optional topics will become compulsory, Brombacher says.
“In the interim, teachers would be trained to teach the (new) curriculum, but training isn’t happening and I am ready to bet that keeping the optional topics optional is going to be very attractive.
“I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though, it happens all over the world,” he says.
But for Prof Mamokgeti Setati, director of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Marang Centre for Maths and Science Education, this is a worry.
“If in 2010 the optional topics don’t become part of the core, there will be a problem ... If you continue with the optional as optional it brings back higher grade and standard grade and it is possible we’ll introduce inequalities again,” she says.
The inequalities of which Setati speaks are the very reason the education department has backed away from higher and standard grade in all subjects, but particularly in mathematics. That schools pressed able mathematics pupils into standard grade in order to increase their average pass rate, or simply did not teach higher grade mathematics at all, is well documented.
Those pupils who write the education department exam in the optional mathematics topics — the so-called third paper — would have this reflected on their matric certificates, but the education department has an agreement with Higher Education SA (Hesa) that not having written the third paper will not exclude any applicant from entrance to any programme, says the department’s deputy director-general of further education and training, Penny Vinjevold.
“Paper three will only give you an edge for placement. It will be used to choose between two candidates whose other results are very close,” she says.
This is confirmed by Hesa interim higher education enrolment services director Jody Cedras, who says the umbrella body for universities and universities of technology is collecting admissions points score structures from all 23 higher education institutions and should have this confirmed by the end of the month.
While additional mathematics was never used as an admission requirement, many a pupil who studied it had come back to school to say, “Thank goodness for add maths,” says Meg Fargher, principal of St Mary’s, Waverley.
Fargher is “cautious” about paper three, because teachers are not sure the topics covered are enough to give girls who want to go into technical fields such as mathematics, engineering and the pure sciences “the edge” they have traditionally got from additional mathematics.
“We’ll definitely offer the third paper, and also APM, but that’s going to put a lot of pressure on the girls (that do both). The mathematics curriculum is fuller. They will have to be here early and leave late to finish both curriculums,” she says.
Another Johannesburg school that will offer both subjects from January is St John’s College, where mathematics expert Dr Stephen Sproule, who heads the mathematics department, is dismayed at the education department’s reasoning for ditching additional mathematics from the curriculum.
“It was seen as elitist, but my argument is that it’s only elitist when it is only people with money who can do something and people who don’t have money can’t. That’s what’s happened now,” says Sproule, a former mathematics lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand.
The problem is the IEB will charge per pupil to mark APM exams and for many this expense is set to hit parents’ pockets, something that Bill Schroder, headmaster of Pretoria Boys High School, expects will lead to many public schools jettisoning the subject.
“There are probably a lot of public schools that have offered additional mathematics that will not do so now. The problem is, who’s going to fund it? We may have to charge extra for it,” he says.
The good news is Sproule is almost certain he and some similarly concerned colleagues have secured funding for APM which will be forthcoming soon after the new subject is fully accredited some time this month.