Abbotts College, Advice Column, Education, Mainstream Education, Recently

Maths vs Maths Lit the ongoing battle for parents and students

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  • Category Abbotts College, Advice Column, Education, Mainstream Education, Recently

One of my first bad memories of primary school was when I was moved from the “A” class to the “C” class because I struggled with numbers. I was by far the best reader in class and finished books way ahead of my peers, but for some reason in this school, my mathematics results were the reason I was booted from the streamed “A” class. 

I was devastated and I can still remember the tears and the feeling of stupidity that I could never be a mathematician. To this day, I consider numbers my weak area, as from that day on, I believed I could not do math. It was with relief then that I dropped maths in high school, which was still an option back in then.

As an adult, I’ve managed to work around my so-called inadequacy and can do the everyday math that my job requires. Strangely enough, I scored quite high on the numbers section of a profile assessment one is required to do as a principal. I would have been the perfect Mathematical Literacy student if that subject was available in my era. Instead, I took Home Economics and learned how to make a really good white sauce.

Back to today, and the pivotal moment that arrives for our Grade 9 students as they need to determine their subject choices leading up to Matric. Managing a delicate dilemma, schools often face challenges when students with subpar Grade 9 marks express a desire to pursue Mathematics. Despite recommendations and firm policies advising against it, students may persist in selecting this subject. Notably, opting for the Mathematics/Physical Science combination becomes pivotal for those eyeing university programmes like Engineering, Medicine, and Commerce that necessitate these foundation subjects. 

The critical consideration lies in evaluating the student’s capabilities and their capacity to navigate these rigorous subjects. By the conclusion of Grade 10 and the commencement of Grade 11, if attainment remains consistently below 50% in these areas, a shift is warranted. 

The notorious ‘double fail’ association with the Mathematics/Physical Science combination arises from the common struggle students face in mastering these subjects while steadfastly aspiring to careers like medicine, engineering, or architecture. Frequently, the dilemma extends to parental expectations and the child’s apprehension about failing to live up to the predetermined paths envisioned by their parents. 

This is a sad reality and I have seen many a young student become anxious, resentful, and fearful about their future. Unfortunately, even with policies in place and against the better advice of principals and teachers, the choice still lies with the family. I am not for one moment suggesting that a hard-working student cannot ultimately achieve in these subjects, but if it becomes a major stressor in their lives, one has to weigh up the cost between a child’s mental health and the desire for a future career. 

Remember, a student can always return to repeat Mathematics and Physical Science after school when they have matured and there is less pressure. I have many success stories of students who have done exactly that.

At Abbotts JHB South, in Grade 9, we embark on an extensive subject choice process for both students and parents. We engage universities to come in to speak to our Grade 9s, so they have a better idea of university entrance requirements. We also conduct aptitude testing with an external company, where students receive feedback to help them identify their strongest subjects. This information empowers students to choose subjects aligned with their desired career path. 

As a parent or guardian, what can you do to ensure that your child is taking the best possible subject set for Grades 10-12? Here are some factors to consider before making these important choices with your child:

  1. Remember not every child can become a doctor or engineer. The demand for these courses is intense and many exceptional, academically gifted students have been denied access to these courses. 
  2. Know your child’s limitations and abilities. A child’s aptitude is an innate ability that can be developed further and will enable them to perform well in a certain area. There is normally a close relationship between aptitude, interest, and academic performance.
  3. It is better to let your child complete an excellent matric with subjects in which they are capable of achieving above 50% to achieve entrance to university courses. Re-evaluate career choices if Mathematical Literacy is the better option. 
  4. Take your child’s personality into consideration. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences is a theory proposed by the Harvard psychologist that is worth looking into to understand your child’s strengths and intelligences.
  5. Your child, and not the parents, is the one that ultimately has to write assessments and examinations on the subject set chosen to fulfil the requirements and demands of the subject. The student must therefore be the centre of the decision-making process. 
  6. Decision-making needs to be informed, meaning that a student cannot make a proper decision without researching the requirements of a future course/degree, and what the minimum requirements are for acceptance into these tertiary courses. 
  7. Physical Science and Mathematics are demanding subjects and if a student wants to be considered for these subjects, they should be achieving marks above 50%. 
  8. Parents should not force their children to take subjects that they consider important or “better” than others. The best choice will always be the subjects with which the student feels they can cope, and those that interest them the most.

By Marion Kohler, Principal: ABBOTTS Joburg South

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One Comment

  • Bandezi June 19, 2024 at 8:55 am

    Learning should not be forced,it should come naturally.


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