Training the mind

One could say that it is a controversial topic bringing up the recent announcement by the Department of Education proposing to remove mathematics as a compulsory pass subject in grades 7, 8, and 9 in the South African school education system. Some will love the proposal considering their tussle to pass the subject over the years while completing their basic education. These same people might say: “But I have never used mathematics since I left school.”

That statement might be true if you are directly associating mathematics to the use of algebra in your everyday life, which unwittingly you are. Mathematics is the science that deals with the logic of shape, quantity and arrangement. Mathematics is all around us, in everything we do. It is the building block for everything in our daily lives, including mobile devices, architecture (ancient and modern), art, money, engineering, and even sports.

Mathematics is not to be confused with training though. Training is what you do when you learn to operate a lathe or fill out a tax form. It means you learn how to use or operate some kind of machine or system that was produced by people in order to accomplish specific tasks. People often go to training institutes to become certified to operate a machine or perform certain skills. Then they can get jobs that directly involve those specific skills.

Education is very different. Education is not about any particular machine, system, skill, or job. Education is both broader and deeper than training. An education is a deep, complex, and organic representation of reality in one’s mind. It is an image of reality made of concepts, not facts. Concepts that relate to each other, reinforce each other, and illuminate each other. Yet education is more even than that because it is organic: it will live, evolve, and adapt throughout life.

However, mathematics together with education and life experiences will plain and simply give us the route to logical thinking – an immensely valuable tool whenever strong claims or opinions are pressed upon you. Being educated in mathematics gives us the ability to think it through and resist the tendency to agree or disagree based on an instant emotional response. Logical thinking can help you uncover how someone’s thinking went wrong or finding the mental error that kept a person from sound conclusions.

Removing mathematics as a compulsory pass subject is rightly causing concern among education experts in South Africa.

One said: “It was worrying that the bar in education and particularly mathematics education is being lowered over the years.” I think you only need 30% to get a university entrance.

Another said: “Removing mathematics as a compulsory subject would cause the education system to produce fewer scientists, engineers, and accountants.”

They continued: “South Africa’s education system resembles a conveyor belt of mediocrity rather than an investment in the future generation. The purpose is to move the masses through the system rather than to educate them.”

“Now it is at a level where mathematics is seemed to be treated as insignificant by the department. This decision will be shutting the doors on a future for these young learners, as the problem will persist in the grades that follow. If a child is promoted without having mastered certain mathematical skills, we will be perpetuating further failure.”

It is like saying robots are job killers. They should be banned or taxed. Or the internet would not be so much part of our lives today. If there wasn’t mathematical thinking in these instances, where would we be?