Your subject choices in Grade 9 are all about opening career options. For those looking to obtain a degree after high school, choosing between Mathematics Literacy and Core Mathematics can be difficult. To help you make your decision, QuantifyYourFuture spoke to Dr Belinda Huntley, HOD for Mathematics and Advanced Programme Mathematics at Saint Catherine’s Convent*, to find out how Core Mathematics can help you in the real world.
Skills for a changing world
Technology is changing the world quickly, and the skills you’ll need in the future are changing with it. You might think this makes Core Mathematics, with its hundreds-of-years-old theorems and formulas, useless in the real world unless you want to be a Mathematician, a Doctor or an Engineer. But you couldn’t be more wrong.
Dr Huntley says: “Pure mathematics opens up all kinds of career options. It’s not just about whether or not you’re ever going to use a particular formula at work. It’s about the extraction and problem-solving skills you learn as you go through the process of solving a mathematics problem. It teaches you to think critically about solutions, decide which “tools” you need and break a problem down step-for-step.”
This way of approaching a problem is in high demand in the real world. For example, you might be keen to follow a career in retail. Retailers need to balance their stock in the warehouse against their sales to make good profit. This is often at multiple stores across the country. And what about the marketing and advertising that helps to get people into the store to buy things? It’s far from the highly creative job you might imagine. You’ll have to measure what was spent against how much was sold to show whether or not your creative idea worked.
Another example is entrepreneurship. “People think it’s easy – you just come up with an idea and go for it,” says Dr Huntley. “But it’s not that simple. An entrepreneur needs to see the end picture, and this is what Core Mathematics teaches you. You have to scaffold the process, break it up into smaller pieces and synthesise all of this into one big picture.”
And then there are the emerging careers. Careers such as data and business analytics, data engineering and behavioural economics. These are quite new in the world of work and in very high demand because the skills are so rare.
“The critical thinking skills you learn doing Core Mathematics are important to be successful in all these careers,” Dr Huntley explains.
Your future job might not exist yet
“If you look at all the research on future Global skills, such as that done by the World Economic Forum (WEF)2, Higher Cognitive Skills – like critical thinking and quantitative and statistical skills – are becoming more and more sought after all over the world,” Dr Huntley points out. “Of the “Four C’s” skillset every successful worker will need by 2030, critical thinking is at the top of the list.3 Core Mathematics is critical to developing these skills.”
From data science, engineering and medicine to accounting and merchandising, Core Mathematics remains the key to unlocking careers in demand. If none of these strike your fancy, how does a career as a Cyber City Analyst, a Data Detective or a Genomic Portfolio Director sound? What about a Man-Machine Teaming Manager or a Digital Tailor1?
“Big Data is an emerging career area that many high school students know about, but there are many more. Students are already doing amalgamated degrees – such as Biomedical Engineering to design prosthetics and related devices,” says Dr Huntley. “Even young people who see themselves as more creative or artistic can open doors for themselves with Core Mathematics on their high school report cards. Creativity is number two on the Four C’s list, after all.”
So, what about combining Psychology with IT to prepare for future roles that rely on successful interaction and communication between human beings and AI-powered machines? Creativity, good social skills and excellent problem solving often go hand-in-hand.
Marks vs Subject
Many young people choose not to take Core Mathematics because they’re concerned that they won’t achieve the matric results they’ll need to get into university.
“The truth is that 40% for Core Mathematics is often worth more than a distinction in Mathematics Literacy for university entry,” Dr Huntley says. “Degrees like Bachelor of Engineering or a Bachelor of Science, for example, can often be completed on an extended programme if matric Core Mathematics results aren’t as good as a student needs.”
“And even if a young person has no choice but to take Mathematics Literacy – perhaps because their school doesn’t offer Core Mathematics – these future careers are not inaccessible,” she continues. “Many universities offer bridging courses for first year students who want to go on to do Commerce degrees such as Economics or Accounting, but don’t have Core Mathematics at school.”
Ultimately, Core Mathematics is less about formulas and theorems, and more about a way of thinking. It can widen career choices for young people no matter what their areas of interest are.
*Dr Huntley holds a PHD in Mathematics Education and is a Council member of the South African Mathematical Society (SAMS) as well as member of the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) Advisory Committee on Mathematics. In addition to her role at St Catherine’s Convent, she is the Regional Co-ordinator for the SAMF’s Wits Siyanqoba Mathematics Olympiad Centre and a sessional lecturer for Wits Plus.