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Address at the Aggrey Klaaste maths, science and technology educator of the year award, 10 March 2005, Minister Naledi Pandor speeches


Address by the Minister of Education, Ms Naledi Pandor, MP, at the Aggrey Klaaste maths, science and technology educator of the year award, Midrand

10 March 2005

Mr Thabo Leshilo, Editor of the Sowetan
Mr Sizwe Nxasana, Telkom SA
Mrs Nkhetheleng Vokwana, Telkom Foundation
Professor Mamokgethi Setati, Chairman of the judging panel

Thank you for inviting me to be the patron of the awards.

I knew Aggrey Klaaste and admired his contribution towards journalism and nation building in South Africa.

The aim of this award is to improve the quality of maths and science and technology teaching and there is no more pressing aim in education today.

This award focuses attention on these subjects because there are too few pupils taking them and in particular too few African pupils take them and, worse, too few African pupils do well in maths, science and technology.

If you look at maths senior certificate results over the last five years, or rather the five-year period 1999 to 2003 (and there is only a marginal improvement if you include 2004), you will see that the total number of senior certificate candidates attempting mathematics has never reached the 60% mark, that is, there are more than 40% of all candidates who did not take mathematics (at any level).

The data cannot tell us how many of the more than 40% might have succeeded in passing mathematics had they attempted it.

It is probably safe to say that many of the 40% are casualties of the legacy of apartheid, because we know what the attitude of the previous regime was to teaching maths and science to African pupils.

The number of candidates offering mathematics at higher grade level over the past five years has never exceeded 10% of total candidates level and the percentage who pass mathematics higher grade has only once exceeded 5% of senior certificate candidates. 

The number of candidates who enrol for mathematics at either higher grade or standard grade level and who pass the subject at the level at which they enrol has never exceeded 28%.[1]

The position with physical science is statistically worse - fewer than 22% passed physical science.

Despite our major attempts to upgrade the qualifications of teachers, only a half of teachers teaching mathematics and science have studied these subjects beyond secondary school level.

And as Professor Setati so eloquently said in City Press[2] recently, and I quote: “The only reason why people think mathematics is difficult is because of the way they have been taught mathematics at school. To change people’s perceptions and students’ performance in mathematics we need to change the way it is taught. We need high quality mathematics teaching and high quality mathematics teachers in every classroom, for every child.”

She is right. And that is why the Western Cape has made maths compulsory up to grade 9 and why KZN has made Zulu compulsory, because the language of instruction is critical in the teaching of maths and we know that mother tongue learning is absolutely central to effective learning.

And that is why there is more money for maths and science teachers in our 2005 budget and why the focus is now on quality rather than on quantity.

We can no longer afford to deny nearly half of our pupils the basis and opportunity for qualifying to work and better themselves in our contemporary scientific world.

Mathematics plays a gatekeeper role in this regard. Pupils are only allowed to pass through this gate if their passport is endorsed with a higher grade maths pass.

But it is not simply access to information and communication technologies that concerns us.

Our political economy has evolved to a point where citizens need a quantitative understanding of numbers in order to participate in and contribute to the development of democratic culture.

Recognition of this evolution is evident in an increasing awareness for the needs of a greater public understanding of science in the broadest possible sense of that word.

This recognition is further evident in the call that all learners at all levels should do mathematics.

But what sort of maths should our pupils learn?
At the moment a ministerial working committee is considering the curriculum statements for maths and mathematical literacy.

You see, the mathematics that has played the gatekeeper role to further and higher education has not necessarily prepared individuals to be able to participate in and contribute to their society.

Traditional mathematics programmes have not necessarily prepared individuals to make sense of their worlds.

For example, traditional mathematics programmes have also done little to help individuals comprehend the enormous impact that hire purchase can exert on their disposable income and/or to understand the sensitivity of an adherence regimen for ARVs and TB treatments.

The world has changed.
The power of computers and the pervasiveness of the media ensures that no individual’s life is unaffected by numbers, numerically based arguments, and the need to make decisions based on such information that is represented in words, graphs, tables, formulae and equations.

The twenty first century demands new skills of individuals, skills that are not necessarily developed in mathematics courses but rather in courses that deal with a different kind of mathematics.

Such courses have different titles across the world, ranging from quantitative literacy in some parts, to numeracy in others, and more recently in South Africa: mathematical literacy.

I want to make three points about mathematical literacy.

First, mathematical literacy is a different kind of maths, and not maths at a different level. It is not maths standard grade. It is not standard grade maths under another name. It is different in kind and not in level.

Second, we need properly trained teachers. Mathematics teachers are not all well qualified to teach the subject - the DoE’s curriculum implementation working group’s survey (conducted with Stats SA in 2002) suggests that while there are some 27 000 teachers teaching mathematics in the FET band only 18 000 of them are qualified.

Third, the introduction of mathematical literacy will need to be managed in a very thoughtful and careful manner.

It will have to be managed in a very deliberate and possibly incremental manner.

Since we anticipate that at an absolute minimum those 40% of senior certificate candidates who do not enrol for mathematics at all will be taking the subject, and since we also anticipate that a significant number of those who will teach the subject currently do not teach mathematics, it is easy to see how careful and deliberate we need to be.

If we add to this scenario the fact that mathematical literacy is a new subject that has neither been taught before nor completely understood, you will get a sense of how carefully we need to tread.

In closing, I want to emphasise that mathematical literacy and mathematics are both crucial and important subjects.

On the one hand, mathematical literacy is critical for the deepening of our democratic culture.

On the other hand, mathematics is important for work and further study in a wide range of careers that are crucial to the economy and nation building.

With respect to mathematics our challenge is to ensure that we increase participation and success in as well as the enjoyment of mathematics by more than the current percentages.

And that is why awards, such as the Aggrey Klaaste Award this evening, are so important.

I congratulate the winners who are soon to receive their ‘gongs’. Go forth and multiply I would like to say to you. Not biblically, of course. But spread the word. You are a vital resource. Your success is our success. Your success is vital to developing the economic welfare of our nation.

Thank you.

[1] Ministerial Committee for Mathematics and Mathematical Literacy, March 2005
[2] “Maths is Easy. Teaching it is hard”, City Press, 5 September 2004

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Written By: Administrator Account
Date Posted: 6/30/2008
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