Maths important in current climate, says Manuel

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pretoria - Finance Minister Trevor Manuel has highlighted the importance of Maths literacy among school children, especially under the current economic climate.

"I think that we understand that the complexities in the economy will require higher mathematical skills," Mr Manuel said on Monday at the launch of the Census @School project at the Pro Arte Alphen Park High School in Pretoria.

The objective of the project, which targets learners between Grades 3 and 12, is to enhance the statistical and numerical literacy of learners as well as raise awareness of the national population census.

The project will also teach pupils how to gather information about themselves. They will have to fill in a questionnaire as part of a schools census, answering questions about their shoe size, height and favourite sport and subject.

The census will be conducted on a sample of 10 percent of South African schools between April 14 and 24 and the data will thereafter be evaluated.

By April 28, information relating to three areas - namely personal, household and school information - will be collected from the various selected schools. A preliminary report is expected by the end of July.

Statistician General Pali Lehohla said the purpose of the project was to raise awareness on numeracy among pupils.

"The world is increasingly becoming an information society and South Africa cannot lag behind and we do lag behind as far as Maths is concerned. We need to become a numeric society".

The project, first launched in 2001, was initiated by Statistics SA in collaboration with the Department of Education after a similar type of initiative was launched successfully in the United Kingdom.

Data captured from the initial project conducted in 2001 found that 51 percent of learners who took part in the project were girls compared to 49 percent of boys. Approximately 53 percent of pupils had between four to six people living in their households.

Fifty-five percent of learners had running water installed in their homes while 48 percent had telephones in their homes.

Minister Manuel said it was important for learners to be involved in the project because the outcomes of the questionnaires would help government take certain decisions.

He was greeted by loud applause by learners at the school when he conceded that Mathematics was a "tough" subject to learn and teach.

However, he highlighted that it was an important proficiency to have. "So much of what we do in life needs some unit of measurement," he told learners.

The minister, responding to a question from a learner about how well he had done in Mathematics at school, said he had battled and did not have high marks until he came across a teacher who helped him.