Is Drop to Mathematics Pass Rate a Threat to Financial Literacy?

The Government has lowered the mathematics pass rate from 40% to 20% in schools, prompting more concerns about South Africa’s financial literacy.

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The Government has lowered the mathematics pass rate from 40% to 20% for pupils in years seven to nine, triggering more concerns about South Africa’s low levels of financial literacy. Designed to keep students who are held back thanks to poor maths grades moving through the school system, this recent development will see pupils who are successful in other subjects continue to progress, even with mathematics marks as low as 20%.
Already an optional subject in many public high schools, this new revision of mathematical performance is of real concern to many who see the impact of poor financial literacy on South Africa’s personal debt problem every day ā€“ and on the individuals affected by it. The country’s financial education problem is already well documented, with a recent global survey ranking the nation amongst the least financially literate in the world. Just 28% of South Africans considered to be financially literate.

Financial literacy & debt

This worryingly low level of financial education is continually linked to the extremely high levels of consumer debt in South Africa, in fact the nation is one of the most personally indebted on earth. Many consumers in South Africa do not check interest rates and admin fees on financial products they use, while a substantial proportion of the population use credit irresponsibly and inappropriately, triggering dangerous debt spirals thanks to splurges on holidays and luxuries.

A step backwards

The news that mathematics pass rates will be lowered is a real concern for organisations like Wonga.co.za who have been championing better financial literacy in the country. Prompted by a recent survey of consumer understanding of credit products, the lender has created its own resource designed to educate South Africans on money issues. The new Money Academy resource teaches topics such as The Basics of Budgeting and An Introduction to Investing.

It’s not just financial service providers who harbour concerns about South Africa’s financial literacy. Many in Government have long been working with financial organisatons to help improve financial education across the country. The new educational development, however, appears to fly in the face of attempts to improve financial education in schools ā€“ particularly in low income areas.

Time for change

The policymakers behind the new measure claim that students in year nine who score less than 30% n the subject will not be able to study mathematics in year ten. But this is no consolation for those who are troubled by South Africa’s wider numeracy issues. Rather that preventing students from taking their mathematical education further while also setting the bar lower, surely South African educators should be working to learn why students are consistently failing in mathematics, then working to make positive changes?

Perhaps if we can raise a more numerate new generation, financial literacy and stability in the country will improve hand in hand.
How did you perform in mathematics at school? What do you think of the recent pass mark reduction? Have your say and share your story below.

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