Mathematics: Literacy vs Pure and Technical Maths

by Morgan Bolnick

Mathematics is a compulsory subject in South African schools. That could be either good or bad news to your ears. Either way, the great news is that you’ve got options. And we are about to unpack them.

Whether you’re a high school learner or the parent of a high school learner, it’s vital for you to know the differences between the mathematics options on offer.

School subjects: The decision struggle is real

There is a subconscious, and perhaps very conscious, pressure on high school learners these days to have their future all figured out.

Not only do you need to navigate your way through high school, but you also need to find an answer to the question, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?” This may seem like a loaded question for a fifteen-year-old, but careful consideration needs to be taken when choosing school subjects because this choice will impact which career path you will be able to take. Wait, what?

Something that got many high school students excited a few years back was the possibility of not having to take mathematics all the way to Matric. Then they changed the rules by making maths compulsory. Typical.

But, truthfully, some form of mathematics in school is important because the subject teaches problem-solving, reasoning and the connections between concepts and procedures.

Mathematics: Your three options

The three forms of maths you get to choose from are:

  • Maths Literacy
  • Pure Maths
  • Technical Maths

If you’re thinking maths is maths and have no idea why there are three different categories, brace yourself. There are differences as well as pros and cons that come with each of these options. Knowing the focus of each of these forms of maths will help you make this subject choice.

Warning: this information could change your life. You’re welcome.

1. Mathematical Literacy:

This form of mathematics deals with commonplace problems such as budgeting and interest calculations. In short, it’s an everyday kind of maths.

Pro: It’s easy to pass and you may look like a genius for hitting 80 and 90 percents; plus you’ll actually be able to use this in everyday life. 

Con: While it pushes up Matric pass rates and ‘university passes’, it is harder to get into university if you take this highly-favoured of school subjects. Even if you don’t know what you want to study yet, by taking Maths Literacy, you are automatically excluded from degrees such as accounting, medicine, engineering, physics, chemistry and IT at most institutions.

2. Pure Mathematics:

This may seem the less ‘practical’ decision as it deals with problem-solving, not necessarily encountered in everyday life – think trigonometry, algebra and basic calculus. Many pass over this subject precisely because it seems as though you’ll never need it and it’s mathematics for maths sake.

Pro: Learners who take this subject are more likely to be accepted to mathematical and non-mathematical tertiary qualifications than their more practical counterparts. Mathematics also teaches problem-solving, which is a soft skill required in many careers.

Con: It’s difficult! A lot of students need to take on extra, after-school maths lessons to pass. Plus a mere ‘pass’ also isn’t enough to meet the entry requirements at a tertiary institution and hard work will need to be put in to achieve decent marks.

3. Technical Mathematics:

If you fancy yourself a tradesman, then Technical Maths is for you. This form of maths prepares learners for careers such as an electrician, fitter, turner and plumber, etc. You will learn how to apply mathematical methods in calculating things like peak current flow in an alternating current network as well as integration and differentiation – this means also knowing how to apply partial fractions. In other words, it’s pure mathematics in a practical way – it’s also called Applied Mathematics because you need to know how to apply the methods to real-life problems as opposed to deriving solutions from first principles.

Pro: There is a demand for technical skills in South Africa.

Con: It doesn’t grant a student university exemption and you will only be able to study at a technical college, so you need to be sure a technical career is what you want to do.

EduConnect 2Cents

Take a moment, we know it’s a lot to take in – whether you know already which form of maths you want to take or not! Maths Literacy, Pure Maths, Technical Maths – you’ve got options. Now you just have to decide which is the top one.

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