Access to Mathematics in the FET
The South African Mathematics Foundation’s Advisory Committee on Mathematics (ACM) has initiated a study to examine how various curriculum changes in the years from 1994 till 2014 affected or influenced Mathematics teaching and learning. The study looked at trends at selected schools in a diverse district in one of the South African provinces.
Mathematics is regarded as a difficult subject to learn and to teach in and much of this difficulty stems from the mathematics content which has to be taught in the various grades. In 1994 Mathematics was a compulsory school subject until grade 9. In grade 10 learners selected a minimum of 6 subjects, which may have included Mathematics as a subject. There was further separation within Mathematics, where learners could do Mathematics at either the standard or higher grade. This situation continued until 2007, when the last group of learners wrote Mathematics at either the higher or standard grade at Grade 12.
There have been numerous curriculum changes in the years from 1994 till 2014 which influenced Mathematics teaching and learning. In 2001 and 2002 the outcome based education and the Common Task for Assessment (CTA) was introduced to high school learners. The CTA which was regarded as an external examination had serious challenges in terms of its implementation and was discontinued.
Curriculum 2005 which advocated an “outcomes-based” approach had a major impact in the learning and teaching in the GET (grades 7-9) due to the fact that it was very vague in terms of what had to be taught in different grades and was not a “subject” but a “learning area”. This went against the curriculum research in South Africa which pointed out the need to have documents describe clearly the sequence and progression on knowledge within a subject.
Curriculum change over the years has also affected the content to be taught in different grades. Changes involved moving content from one grade to another; removing some content and introducing new content. The introduction of Technical Mathematics and Technical Science in technical schools in grade 10 from 2016 shows that the process of curriculum change in South Africa is far from over.
These changes as well as the introduction of Mathematical Literacy as an alternative to Mathematics in the FET phase were taken into consideration to examine access to Mathematics in the FET which is done by comparing numbers of learners doing grade 9 Mathematics at a school with the numbers doing Mathematics three years later. Furthermore the current participation rates in FET Mathematics among certain schools were compared with participation rates from 10 years ago which will help in identifying the access to mathematics in most South African schools. This will also in turn identify some contextual factors which play a role in access to Mathematics in the FET.
According to Dr Vasuthavan Govender, AMESA President and Member of the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) ACM, more learners have been taking Mathematics as a subject in the FET in South Africa since the implementation of the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) in 2006 and Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) in 2012. This has given more learners access to science related careers. However, numbers supplied by a given district, shows that not all schools have had an increase in mathematics numbers. In fact, schools in certain geographical areas lag far behind in terms of access to Mathematics in the FET phase. This means that learners at schools in these areas are unlikely to pursue careers in the Sciences and Engineering. “There is a need to interrogate the teaching and learning of Mathematics at all levels and schools which are struggling should receive the necessary support from school districts and provinces. There should be changes to the way mathematics is perceived in the various communities and parents should be encouraged to play a more prominent role in this regard,” he explained.