Technical maths – but what follows?
Next year, the first matriculants doing technical maths as a subject will be writing their exams, but uncertainty remains about what degrees they will be able to qualify for at university.
While NMMU said it was still awaiting feedback on how to include the subject into its admissions criteria, principals and teachers said they needed the issue resolved as soon as possible because pupils and parents needed subject guidance.
Last year, technical maths and technical science were introduced as alternatives to maths and science for pupils attending technical and comprehensive high schools where engineering subjects are taught.
Nelson Mandela Bay schools offering technical subjects such as engineering graphics and design and other engineering subjects include Daniel Pienaar, Newton Technical High and Gelvandale High.
NMMU dean of teaching and learning Prof Cheryl Foxcroft said the university was participating in initiatives nationally through Universities South Africa and Umalusi on how to include technical maths in its admissions criteria.
“At this stage it is premature to include technical maths in our admissions criteria until there are national guidelines,” she said.
But Rhodes University spokeswoman Veliswa Mhlope said the institution had already made provision for the subject and pupils with technical maths did not qualify for commerce, science or pharmacy degrees.
She said pupils with technical maths and maths literacy could apply for humanities degrees (BA and BSS) and Bachelor of Education (Foundation Phase).
Daniel Pienaar principal Nico Claassen said while the schools were pleased with the introduction of technical maths, the lack of communication from universities regarding the subject and admissions criteria was cause for concern.
“There is no clarity and no final decisions have been made,” Claasen said.
“In the meantime we need to advise pupils and their parents, but there is still not one single document stipulating technical maths and the requirements for certain courses.”
Claassen said despite the lack of communication, schools were pleased with the introduction of technical maths, especially for pupils who planned to become artisans instead of engineers.
“To do maths, a certain level of skill is required. Not everyone can do maths today because it is at the same level that higher grade used to be,” he said.
“A large number of pupils have been excluded from being able to do the subject.
“To become a skilled artisan you do not need pure maths, but you do need to do maths at a certain level. This is why we are happy about the introduction of technical maths.”
Claassen said only schools offering subjects like mechanical, electrical and civil engineering and engineering graphics and design would offer technical maths and technical science.
Claassen and Newton Technical High principal Shirley Wilson said the two schools were in the process of phasing out maths literacy as a subject due to the introduction of technical maths.
Wilson said because the subject was introduced to Grade 10 classes last year, the first matriculants would only write technical maths next year.
Nesta Olivier, subject head of technical maths at Newton, said: “I believe the introduction of technical maths is a good thing for pupils and it would be a pity if universities do not accept it.
“Technical maths is not an easy way out. It is exactly the same as normal maths but more geared towards application.”
Olivier said she believed specialisation in subjects should start earlier, at primary school level, instead of one class teacher teaching various subjects.
Aubrey Thomas, deputy principal and head of maths at Gelvandale High, said it was concerning that the number of pupils doing maths was dropping.
“We are still waiting for confirmation from universities regarding what courses pupils with technical maths can do,” he said.
“However, the number of pupils doing maths has steadily declined. We also find that our maths literacy results are declining.
“We believe the problem stems from lower grades in primary school.
“In maths, pupils need to constantly do exercises. For pupils from poorer socio-economic backgrounds this is difficult.
“You need more parental interaction, more access to different technologies and you need schooling to start earlier.
“You need to practise on a daily basis. In areas like Gelvandale and Helenvale where safety is a concern, this is difficult.”
Gelvandale High principal Deon O’Brien said there were 47 Grade 10 pupils and 59 Grade 11 pupils doing technical maths this year.
Foxcroft said pupils should be advised to look at the admissions criteria for specific programmes that they are interested in before choosing their subject streams and dropping maths as a subject.
“In general, most programmes in science, engineering, built environment, medical sciences, information technology, accounting and business sciences and some in behavioural sciences and education, require mathematics.
“Also, taking mathematics to Grade 12 provides a set of cognitive tools that prepare students well for degree studies, even if the programme enrolled for does not include maths in the admission requirements.”
Education Department spokesman Malibongwe Mtima said pupils were encouraged to continue maths until Grade 9, when schools study results before advising on subject streams.
He said the department did not believe the number of pupils doing maths was cause for concern but conceded that lack of maths and science educators was a challenge.