Studying Mathematics and English can sometimes be so difficult and learners often find it hard to see how they are going to benefit from these or whether it has any relevance for their future lives. In fact, contrary to their feelings of how irrelevant these are, there are many benefits of developing an excellent ability in these two areas, both for their future studies and for their life in general.
University admission and study1
First and foremost, in order to be considered for admission to university, a learner needs to obtain good marks in matric, obtaining a complete exemption (as opposed to a conditional exemption) at the end of their matric year. Without a complete exemption a student will in all probability not be eligible to apply to any of our top universities. According to the SA Matriculation Board, one of the criteria to be met in order to obtain a complete exemption is that a learner passes at least two languages, including at least one First Language and one university language of instruction. Most universities in South Africa have English as their language of instruction. The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) require applicants to obtain a higher grade pass in English in order to be considered for admission to these institutions. So, already we can see that doing well in English is essential if a learner wishes to study at one of these universities post matric.
Together with a matric exemption, universities in South Africa use a point system to decide whether or not a student is eligible to be admitted to their undergraduate programmes. Learners earn points for each subject that they pass. The better their symbols, the greater number of points they earn, and they will earn more points for subjects taken on higher grade. UCT recommends that ‘applicants writing the South African Senior Certificate are advised to take subjects on higher rather than standard grade. … This is especially true of Mathematics and physical science’.
Each faculty has its own subject, symbol and grade requirements for admission to particular degrees or diplomas, so prospective applicants will need to find out what these requirements are for the particular course that they wish to study. However, we (Kumon) conducted some research into the minimum requirements for admission to the various faculties at Wits and UCT. Below is a brief summary, giving one an indication of how important and crucial Maths and English are should one wish to go to university.
University Courses that require Maths HG (or a very high SG pass):
- Commerce Department [e.g. Financial Accounting (HG only), Auditing, Computer Science, Marketing, Politics and Economics (HG only)]
- Engineering and Built Environment Department [e.g. Architecture, Engineering (HG only), City Planning, Urban Design and Construction Management]
- Health Science Department (e.g. Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language Pathology, Audiology and Medicine)
- Science Faculty (e.g. Business Computing, Bachelor of Science (HG only): Atmospheric Science, Zoology, Marine Biology, Molecular and Cell Biology, Applied Mathematics, and Astronomy)
University Courses that require English (First or Second language) HG
- Law (e.g. Commercial Law, Marine Law, Criminal Justice and Criminology, Human Rights Law and Environmental Law)
- Humanities (e.g. Drama, Film Studies, Media and Writing, Sociology, Archaeology, Politics, Design, Sculpture and Acting and Theatre Making)
For full details, please refer to the admissions department of the respective universities.
From all of this it is clear that obtaining excellent results in Mathematics and English can open doors for a learner to study at university so that they can pursue the career of their choice and realise their dreams.
Train your brain2
But maybe a learner doesn’t want to go to university. They would rather pursue other dreams and ambitions. Or maybe they’re still a long way from university and right now admission requirements for tertiary institutions aren’t of interest to them. “So why should I study Mathematics and English?” they may ask.
Well, a proficiency in these subjects is not only for those who wish to be admitted to university. Did you know that reading and writing, and solving mathematical calculations can exercise your brain and keep it healthy? The brain is a muscle, and like the other muscles in the body, it needs to be exercised and stimulated regularly to stay healthy and keep functioning at its optimum.
Dr Ryuta Kawashima is a professor at Tohoku University in Japan and he is a leader in the field of Brain Imaging in Japan. He has conducted numerous experiments and research to discover what activities activate and stimulate the brain and what activities don’t.
One activity that Dr Kawashima discovered that is excellent for stimulating the brain is performing mathematical calculations regularly, even simple ones. He conducted research to find out which activity exercised the brain more: playing very complex video games, or solving mathematical calculations of adding one digit numbers to each other e.g. 1 + 2 + 5 + 3 + 6 etc. Although at the outset he was sure that the video games would activate the brain more, when he measured activity using MRI scans, he saw that video games actually stimulated the brain very little, but that the arithmetical calculations had the brain firing on all cylinders.
This surprising finding urged Dr Kawashima into further research and he has shown that mathematical calculations stimulate the brain, help to lay down neural pathways and keep the brain from degenerating. Dr Kawashima has this to say, “The prefrontal cortex, the area for thinking and learning, of both hemispheres [of the brain] is active during simple calculation. Dealing with numbers is an important and sophisticated activity for human beings. … From primary school to college, simple calculation triggers brain activity. … Calculation is extremely helpful in training and developing your brain.” (p.34). He goes on to make the following recommendation: ‘Before studying something difficult, do a little calculating for just a minute or two. You will be able to study more efficiently because various parts of your brain will be activated. It’s like warming up the engine before using a car.’ (p.34)
Another activity that is vital for the brain is reading, especially reading out loud. Through his research, Dr Kawashima has found that when reading, many parts of both sides of the brain, as well as the prefrontal cortex (the most important place in the brain for thinking and learning) are activated. (p.26). Reading out loud activates the brain even more than reading silently. This can be a useful tip when it comes to studying. Reading work out loud can help a learner to remember it better.
These findings have even been put to use with elderly people. Kumon Japan has started an initiative called “Learning Therapy” that takes Kumon to people in old age homes. Special large print worksheets have been produced for this project, and the residents at these old age facilities complete the worksheets on a daily basis. Elderly people who had previously been confined to bed, had lost all hope and reason to live and were simply waiting to die, have been regenerated and energised through completing worksheets each day, because their brains have been reactivated.
Studying Mathematics and a language is valuable to us as humans. Obtaining good grades gives children more opportunities and choices in their tertiary studies, and activities in Mathematics and reading keep our brains alive, activated and healthy – even into old age. In closing, a quote from Dr Kawashima serves as a great summary:
Your brain has unlimited potential to do anything. For the brightest future possible, train your brain yourself. Do it by learning a lot, reading books, doing sports and playing with friends. … You cannot develop a strong brain as long as you always take the easy way out, and just do what you like and not do what bores you. You must take the lead. You must develop your brain yourself.
- Information for this section was taken from the following sources:
- University of Cape Town website: www.uct.ac.za/apply/criteria
- University of Witwatersrand website:
- Matriculation Board website: www.hesa-enrol.ac.za/mb
2. Information for this section was taken from the following sources:
- Kawashima, R. 2003. Train Your Brain. Kumon Publishing Co, Ltd. Tokyo, Japan
- Kawashima, R. and Koizumi, H. ed. 2003. Learning Therapy. Tohoku University Press. Sendai, Japan.