Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The Department of Basic Education’s plan allowing pupils in the higher grades to drop pure maths as a compulsory subject has been met with mixed reactions, with one critic saying it amounts to lowering of standards to push up the pass rate.

However, those in support of the idea said the plan was much needed and should have been introduced earlier.

The department has gazetted the proposed change to The Schools Act for public comment.

According to the department, the rationale for the proposed changes is that the current system, which prevents pupils who study maths literacy from taking accounting as a matric subject, disadvantages those who may want to pursue other professions linked to accounting. These include administration‚ marketing and bookkeeping that do not require advanced maths skills.

The proposal does not amend university entry requirements for business and chartered accounting degrees. If a pupil wanted to study for a BCom in accounting, or for a degree in finance and taxation‚ they would still require pure maths, according to the proposal.

This latest plan comes in the wake of the tabling of another controversial proposal that could result in key subjects, such as maths, being removed as a compulsory requirement in the progression of pupils to senior grades. According to the Department of Education, the latter proposal was not new but merely aligned the minimum promotion requirements with those currently being applied in grades 10, 11 and 12.

Education analyst Prof Graeme Bloch said dropping pure maths as a compulsory subject for pupils studying accounting would actually disadvantage pupils once they enter the world of work. "This amounts to lowering standards to push up the pass rate and it is unforgivable. Maths is more than just teaching numbers. It instils and hot-wires young brains for problem solving and lateral thinking. Cutting out maths severely limits any future career options particularly for learners in poor communities."

However, Thanesha Rajoo, an accounting specialist in teacher education at Wits University, said the plan was long overdue. "I welcome this … we have many students that are strong in accounting, but are forced to drop it because they perform poorly in [pure] maths. Why should we stand in their way if they want to continue with accounting? There are several other professions [linked to accounting] that do not require advanced maths skills … [but] obviously, we still need those students who are good in maths to also take up accounting."

Jacques Du Plessis, a lecturer in mathematics education, agreed. "I think the department is making a reasonable argument for dropping core mathematics as a prerequisite to study accountancy, because the skills needed for school accountancy are also required in mathematical literacy," he said.

"The problem arises when a learner decides to advance to a career in accountancy, since a prerequisite at universities for studies in accountancy is core mathematics. Before learners make the decision to continue with mathematical literacy, there should be a process of intensive career counselling that informs learners of the limitations that come with such a decision."

Basil Manuel, the president of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa), said those who opposed the proposal failed to understand its genesis as many students who excelled in accounting, but struggled with pure maths, were disadvantaged as they were forced to drop accounting. "Thousands of students have been disadvantaged by this rule of combination that to take up accounting [in the higher grades] you must do pure maths. Many students who excelled in accounting had to drop the subject altogether."

"What we are saying is that these students will have better chances in the world of work with accounting and they can qualify for other allied professions," he said. "This does not amount to watering down … Naptosa supports the proposals [as] they will improve the prospects of many learners."

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