Accountants volunteer to help bridge SA’s mathematics skills gap

South African Institute of Professional Accountants

14 July 2014


Accountants volunteer to help bridge SA’s mathematics skills gap


SAIPA – the South African Institute of Professional Accountants – says many of its  Professional Accountant (SA) members are willing to help high school pupils improve their mathematics and accounting skills. The Institute has called on other stakeholders to partner with it in finding opportunities for members to donate their time and skills at ‘Saturday Schools’.


The announcement follows a report released by the World Economic Forum that rated South Africa last among 148 countries in terms of its mathematics and science education.


“It’s a well-known fact that South Africa does not have enough qualified mathematics teachers,” says Faith Ngwenya, Technical and Standards Executive at SAIPA. “So, what we’re saying is our members have these skills and are willing to pass their knowledge of mathematics and accounting on to high school pupils. All we’re asking for is the opportunity to do so.”


The role of mathematics in creating jobs


A recent SAIPA paper (Matric Results 2013: A Reason for Celebration or for Concern for the Financial Sector?) showed that in 2013, just 5% of learners who entered Grade 1 in 2002 managed to pass Mathematics at matric level with a score of 50%.


Ngwenya says mathematical and analytical skills are critical to becoming successful as an entrepreneur or small business owner, which is increasingly seen as a viable solution to reduce unemployment and create jobs.  “Without these skills, it’s no wonder that the youth unemployment rate is currently sitting at over 36% This is a problem that is affecting our whole society, so we feel that as SAIPA, it’s also up to us to respond and do offer our services.”


According to Ngwenya, mathematical and analytical skills are important attributes that help an entrepreneur assess the relevant markets as well as understand and manage the financial side of the business. Futhermore, these skills are not only critical skills for many subjects at the tertiary level, but they are also useful and often indispensable in the work environment later on and in people’s daily lives. 


“A lack of such skills can hinder personal and professional achievements as well as people’s prospects of improving their lives.  For example, a person who is unable to understand the concept of compound interest rates or to make basic interest calculations is at a much higher risk of over-estimating the financial burden of incurring debt and thus of becoming over-indebted,” she says.


Why Mathematics Literacy doesn’t quite make the grade

The subject Mathematical Literacy has grown in popularity as it’s promoted as something of a replacement for mathematics as it makes passing matric easier, but SAIPA warns it doesn’t equip school leavers to enter the financial sector or even to become entrepreneurs.


“In view of the scarcity of skills in the economy, the trend towards choosing easier alternatives to mathematics is hardly favourable and could jeopardise SA’s future development.  Although overall matric pass rates have increased as a result, the development of the key skills needed in the financial sector and other fields is lagging behind.”


The number of candidates writing Mathematical Literacy increased by 21.3% from 2008-2011. During the same time, those writing mathematics decreased by around 19.5%.


“For the financial sector, Mathematical Literacy is not nearly an equivalent nor a sufficient alternative to Mathematics,” she says, citing Basil Manuel, president of National and Professional Teachers of SA who has questioned whether the current school system will be able to meet the country's future need for engineers, accountants and entrepreneurs.


“Clearly, a radically different approach to the one that we as South Africans are following is desperately needed,” concludes Ngwenya. “That’s why we as SAIPA are offering our services and we trust that other professional bodies with skilled memberships will follow suit, partnering with us to see the youth gain the skills they need to take this country forward.”


*Figure released by Statistics South Africa.