The number of students who are taking maths as a core subject is on the decline in South Africa.
Speaking to Business Tech, Umalusi Chairperson John Volmink said over the years, the marks in maths have not gotten better in comparison to other subjects.
“For example, performance in physical science seems to be improving year by year, but performance in mathematics is not showing any signs of improvement.
“It is not any worse, but it is not any better – it’s just at the same place, “ said Volmink.
While there’s no quick fix for the maths crisis in South Africa if it is not addressed, the number of students who will choose maths as a subject in high school will drop even further.
Numeracy Chair at the University of the Witwatersrand, Professor Hamsa Venkatakrishnan, believes that children should learn fundamental maths skills before they even start school.
“In other countries by the time children start reception (pre-school) they already know how to count to at least 20,” says Professor Venkatakrishnan.
However, South African children may enter school far behind when compared to children from other countries. Professor Venkatakrishnan explains that such delays have a significant impact on children when they start school, as there are cognitive gaps that schools may struggle to close, even from the foundation phase.
“Children are not getting a grip of language and are also not getting the grip of early numbers from an early age,” she elaborates.
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Early intervention can, however, make a world of difference. Things such as giving kids the correct nutrients and ensuring that they are healthy are some of the things that parents can do to help children with their development.
On the educational front, playing games such as using building blocks to count can help kids to learn basic math skills such as counting.
“They won’t know how to subtract or add, but they will know when you say give me three spoons and the child will learn how to count three spoons.
It is the everyday uses of numbers; I think there’s not enough of doing that in South Africa,” she says.
When children miss learning these necessary skills before starting schools, they struggle even further when starting Grade-R or Grade-1.
“For instance, if I said to a child, show me seven fingers, you will see many children who will count out seven fingers, they won’t know that I have five on the one hand and two in the other hand and that’s the kind of thing parents should be alert to,” she says.
Professor Venkatakrishnan advises parents to encourage children to at least take maths as a subject until they finish high school.
“The world is a quantitative place in the sense that we have numbers all around us, we have quantities, we have shapes, to make sense of our world, being able to reason quantitatively is an important skill to have. Not giving children maths skills, makes them quantitatively illiterate,” she says.