Rumoured proposals by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to scrap compulsory mathematics for grades 7-9 may have proved false, but maths in South Africa may be still under threat. With low levels of financial literacy already blighting the Rainbow Nation, dwindling mathematics results must be taken in hand, not brushed under the carpet if South Africa is to ever enjoy a brighter financial future.

In early July 2017, reports that the DBE were considering scrapping compulsory mathematics for students in grades 7-9 sparked outcry from teachers, parents, academics and professionals. Many of those who spoke out believed that the proposal was another cynical move by the DBE, designed to shore up their worsening matric results following another year in which increasing numbers of students did not make the grade.

Dispelling rumours

Fortunately, the reports proved to be untrue. According to Education Minister Angie Motshekga, mathematics will continue to be compulsory for grades 1 -9. Refuting the claims, Motshekga stated:

We have noted with great concern the misinformation to the nation by certain quarters of the media that suggests that the sector is intending to bring changes by making mathematics optional…

The department continues to recognise the role that mathematics plays and will continue to play in the development of our nation.

This is the position of the department regarding the offering of mathematics by the South African learners and the department is not intending to change this position now or in the near future.”

Dropping standards

While some observers will breathe a sigh of relief in response to this news, others will not be quite so heartened. Back in 2016, the DBE dropped the pass mark for mathematics from 40% to just 20% in an attempt to keep students progressing through the school system, without being held up by retakes. The new pass mark will allow any student achieving 20% in mathematics to progress to the next year, although students achieving 30% and below will not be permitted to take the subject in grade 10.

Many educational professionals have warned that this move could further reduce the already low level of numeracy in the country which already underperforms considerably in comparison to its less affluent African cousins.

Financial impact

This troubling direction is also of concern to the many financial bodies and businesses who have long been promoting better financial education as a solution to the high levels of debt and low levels of saving which blight South African personal finances.

From the OECD and to advisory sites like Money Academy, to the South African Insurance Association (SAIA), organizations across the spectrum have been working for years to highlight the need for improved financial literacy. Unfortunately, it appears that their work and their clear, unanimous message is falling on the deaf ears of a short-termist and results-obsessed DBE.