Dual Nature of Mathematics: A Challenging Journey and an Everyday Necessity

Stefke Tolmay sees the benefits that additional help at primary school gave them in their mathematical journey leading them to a deep appreciation of maths in and out of the classroom.

Illustration by Tristan Barnard

Sometimes mathematics is non-welcoming

At an early age I was introduced to mathematics. When I was about five years old my dad used to set up worksheets with basic mathematics operations like multiplying, dividing, addition and subtraction. He wanted to give me a head start before starting primary school. He learned from what my sister struggled with. Primary school mathematics was of a high standard, making it easier to transition to high school. At the age of twelve some learners’ parents could no longer help them with their homework because of the way it was taught. Some learners fell behind at an early age because they did not have the additional help required to master it or simply because the way it was taught was not in a way which suited them best. Coming out of a school with a good foundation of mathematics required at the age, the first two years of high school was a walk in the park. Students from other primary schools had a harder time transitioning to high school mathematics. Because mathematics was such a feared subject, many students enrolled in extra classes. Some students did not have this luxury and needed to find a way to master it themselves or if not in most cases got left behind. The tests were set up in such a way which made it difficult for some students to pass. They were set up in such a way to keep the “stronger” students in the class and let those who were struggling move to mathematical literacy with the focus on getting the best possible results for the matric final exam. It left some students feeling that they would never be able to do mathematics. If it was not for all the help I received, I too would have felt that mathematics was not for me and is non-welcoming. Most young people stop with something when it gets hard and without the correct support structure most will fail in a school system. When the school system is actually failing them by only following one way of teaching and assessing the students.

Illustration by Liani Malherbe

Everyone needs mathematics in their life

Even though the class group split into two different types of mathematics, both learned valuable skills that can still be used in their everyday lives. Everyone has a different understanding of what mathematics means to them. Mathematics is in our everyday life without us realizing it. For myself it not only includes my studies at university but also in everyday life. Some simple examples are working out a budget when sharing a ride to university or just working out a monthly budget planner. Something valuable I learned from Pythagoras is how to choose the shortest route between my different classes during the day. You do not have to be a genius to do mathematics, but you need time, practice and resources that can lead you on the correct path. For some students, mathematics is a walk in the park and for others it takes a bit longer, or a different way of teaching is required. Mathematics taught me the self-discipline to put in extra work to enable me to succeed in my everyday life. Mathematics also gave me the opportunity to develop problem solving skills which most modules in school did not teach. Without mathematics I would have felt lost in life. It gives me such pleasure when solving difficult problems or discovering new topics.

Stefke Tolmay

2nd Year BSc Computer Science student, Stellenbosch University

Leave a Reply