Is poor maths education hampering South Africa’s financial future?

Is poor maths education hampering South Africa’s financial future?

In late 2016, the Department for Basic Education (DBE) reduced the pass mark in mathematics to just 20%. In July, unsubstantiated rumours arose suggesting that compulsory mathematics could be scrapped altogether for grades 1-9.

Although these rumours have since been quashed, in reality the DBE does intend to remove maths as a compulsory subject for pupils wishing to study accounting and sciences. There are also proposals in the pipeline which could see pass marks reduced further in certain cases . With financial literacy already low in the country, could this worsen the nation’s beleaguered finances?

Experts urge caution

Most educators are firmly of the opinion that these changes, and the ongoing de-emphasis on mathematics in South African schools, is nothing but negative. The DBE has claimed that such moves are an attempt to open up education to the non-mathematically minded and to keep educational pathways open to pupils who struggle with maths but excel in other areas . However, many view this shift as firstly, dangerous and secondly, cynical.

This “cynical” branding stems from the perception that the DBE are making changes in order to massage educational figures and to lessen the burden of poor performing students on the educational system. With many students required to retake grades, if pass marks aren’t achieved, these changes will keep them moving through the system each year and improve the appearance of the DBE’s figures.

A “D” in finance

The dangers of further reducing the importance on mathematical education, meanwhile, are multiple. Already ranked poorly in international surveys of mathematical and scientific education, South Africa could face a further tumble from 47th position (our of 63 countries) if it fails to improve its approach to mathematics. With financial literacy in South Africa already in the doldrums (less than half of the population is considered to be “financially literate”) this increasingly poor mathematics performance could worsen the personal financial landscape.

Outside of education, experts in finance have long been warning of the nation’s woeful grasp of money matters. From short term lender Wonga, to JA Africa and even religious organisations, a huge range of businesses, groups and industry leaders have been offering their own financial education programmes to help improve the level of financial knowledge in the country.

The current economic situation in South Africa makes improving financial awareness even more important. Now undergoing another recession, with a junk credit rating, weak currency and turbulent political climate, South Africans’ stereotypical “spend don’t save” mentality needs to change. The current economy could trigger growing unemployment and rising costs of living, making saving and budgeting absolutely essential for individuals and households keen to weather the financial storm.

Unfortunately, the DBE is failing to support this crucial money-savviness by failing to promote and improve mathematics in schools. Without basic mathematics, how can everyday South Africans be expected to run effective household budgets or understand the implications of using different financial products? C

Do you think that mathematics education affects financial literacy? Do you wish that you had been taught about money management in school? Do you have a financial plan for weathering the current economic recession? Have your say in the comments section.

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