Maths or Maths Lit? Making sense of Matric subject selection.

Inappropriate Matric subject selection in Grade 10 contributes to poor results and failures in Grade 12.  The most problematic subject is maths.  There has been a drive in recent years for more learners to take maths and hence improve our overall number of maths passes.  Due recognition is given to the crisis in scarce skills industries such as science and technology which rely on maths as a gateway subject to tertiary studies.

When students who could do well in maths take maths lit we lose potential human capital. Equally we must also acknowledge that for the many learners taking maths (those who ultimately fail or pass poorly), maths literacy may well have been a better option, improving not only their chance of passing matric but also their overall aggregate.

Gustafsson (2011) researched subject choice and ultimate matric failure.  He found that 24% of the learners that took maths in 2009, who ultimately failed their matric, would have PASSED MATRIC if they had switched to maths literacy.

A second report from the Department of Basic Education (2013) noted that learners in historically white and colored schools who took maths in matric, were already noticeably stronger at maths in Gr 8.  However learners in historically black schools who took maths at matric were not necessarily those who showed strength in the lower grades.  The report notes “It is therefore mystifying what informed the decision to take mathematics to matric – clearly this decision was not informed by the true mathematics ability of learners.”

So, what can we conclude?  Learners with strong maths results in Gr 8 & 9 who are at a school with a strong teaching record for maths, should take maths.  Learners with weak results in Gr 8 & 9 or learners at schools with poor pass rates for matric maths, should NOT take maths.

When making a decision, learners should look closely at their tertiary options.  Some courses require mathematics (not maths lit).  Examples would be Science, Engineering, Computer Technology and Accounting.  Many courses do not require maths.

Exactly what does this look like?  SAILI recommends the 50/50 rule.  If the learner is passing in Gr 9 maths at 50% (code 4) or more AND the school has a matric pass of 50% scoring over 50% (code 4) for maths, then take maths.  If the learner is has less than 50% (code 1,2,3) for maths AND the school has a matric maths result of less than 50% of learners scoring over 50%, take Maths Literacy.


  School matric maths pass rate strong >50% pass at 50% School matric maths pass rate weak <50% pass at 50%
Learner maths results strong >50%

Take Mathematics

Consider whether you need maths for your tertiary course preference, consider whether you will be able to access additional materials & past papers to compensate for your school’s weakness
Learner maths results weak<50% Consider whether you need maths for your tertiary course preference, consider whether you will be able to get extra help at school or from an external tutor to compensate for your weakness

Take Maths Literacy

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