The Limpopo-born rapper, Pabalelo Selema, popularly know as Papzito, has made a clarion call to the government to remove Mathematical Literacy in South Africa’s curriculum in the FET phase as it has contributed to the poor mathematics education and high unemployment rate in the country.
Papzito argues that although the intentions for introducing Maths Lit in 2006 were good, it has resulted in horrible unintended consequences such as a declining number of learners taking pure maths and an unskilled labor force. Some schools have resorted to the use of Maths Lit in sciences and commerce streams to help with school pass rates, thereby leaving learners frustrated after matric in terms of securing admission in tertiary institutions. In many instances, pupils end pursuing any career that is available, typically at some college and later struggle to get employment, leading to high unemployment rate.
There is no study that has been done after 12 years since Maths Lit was written as a national exam to assess its impact on overall Maths proficiency in the country. The latest World Economic Forum report on global Maths rankings has placed South Africa in position 137 out of 140 countries. Although, there is controversy in the ranking methods used, other reports from bodies such as OECD do not place our Maths education highly compared to other countries in the world despite billions of rands the government pumps into the system every year.
The impact of core or pure Maths in the economy is understated and not well communicated. Charles Darwin eloquently summed up the importance of mathematics when he said: “Mathematics seems to endow one with something like a new sense.” The “new sense” in the 21st century is the ability to quantitatively and qualitatively deal with this rapidly changing economy. A case in point is the collaboration of statisticians with retail stores to analyze and refine their loyalty programs. In addition, mathematicians work with banks to manage financial risks, with hospitals to manage emergency ward flows, with mines to optimize fleet cycles, with traffic to manage traffic volume and minimize emergency response times,. The undeniable fact is that Mathematics help us simplify a complex world and help us achieve efficiency and innovation at all levels of the economy.
The president in his state of the nation address has made the public aware of aspirations to develop smart cities. Who will build and maintain it? The Chinese? In Limpopo, for instance, there is a looming Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone; it will need technical skills to support it and other economic developments. The global economy is becoming a knowledge-based as opposed to industrial complex and South Africa should be able to have a competitive edge.
Papzito proposes a step-wise phasing out of Maths Lit starting with grade 10 and an increase in salaries for Mathematics teachers in order to attract the best brains in the sector and deal with Maths-teacher shortage. He further calls on government to establish a commission of enquiry into the reform of South Africa’s education system to match it with the 21st century economy and the best practices across the world. An economic crisis is imminent due to unemployment and it will lead to civil and political unrest. Civil society, NGOs and all movements should come together to use education, particularly mathematics, as a tool to charter a new South Africa that will be attractive to FDI and be competitive across the globe.