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Abbotts College Joburg South guides smart subject choices

Principal's childhood struggle highlights importance of informed subject choices: Navigating Grade Nine subject selection for future success.

“One of my earliest negative memories from primary school was being transferred from the A-class to the C-class due to my struggles with numbers.

“I was by far the best reader in class and finished books way ahead of my peers, but for some reason, in this school, my mathematics results were why I was booted from the streamed A-class,” explained Abbotts Joburg South principal Marion Kohler.

She was devastated and still remembers the tears and feeling stupid that she could never be a mathematician. To this day, she considers numbers her weak area because, from that day on, she believed she could not do maths. It was with relief that she dropped maths in high school, an option back then.

As an adult, she works around her so-called inadequacy and can do the everyday maths her job requires.

“Strangely enough, I scored quite high on the numbers section of a profile assessment one is required to do as a principal. I would have been the perfect mathematical literacy learner if that subject had been available in my era. Instead, I took home economics and learnt how to make a good white sauce,” said Kohler.

Back to today, and the pivotal moment for Grade Nine learners when they must make their subject choices leading up to matric. Managing a delicate dilemma, schools often face challenges when learners with subpar Grade Nine marks express the desire to pursue mathematics.

Despite recommendations and firm policies advising against it, learners might persist in selecting this subject.

Notably, opting for the mathematics and physical science combination is pivotal for those eyeing university programmes like engineering, medicine and commerce that necessitate these foundation subjects.

The critical consideration lies in evaluating the learner’s capabilities and capacity to navigate these rigorous subjects. A shift is necessary if performance remains consistently below 50% in these areas by the end of Grade 10 and the start of Grade 11.

The struggle learners have in mastering mathematics and physical science while aspiring to careers like medicine, engineering, or architecture leads to the notorious ‘double fail’ association.

Frequently, the dilemma extends to parental expectations and the child’s apprehension about failing to live up to the predetermined paths envisioned by their parents.

“This is a sad reality, and I have seen many young learners become anxious, resentful, and fearful about their future. Unfortunately, even with policies in place and against the better advice of principals and teachers, the choice still lies with the family,” emphasised the principal.

“I am not for one moment suggesting a hard-working learner cannot ultimately achieve in these subjects, but if it becomes a major stressor in their lives, one has to weigh up the cost between a child’s mental health and the desire for a future career.”

Remember, a learner can always return to repeat mathematics and physical science after school when they have matured, and there is less pressure. Kohler has many success stories of learners who did exactly that.

At Abbotts Joburg South, they start an extensive subject choice process in Grade Nine for learners and parents.

“We engage universities to come and speak to our Grade Nine learners so that they have a better idea of university entrance requirements.”

Abbotts Joburg South also does aptitude testing with an external company, where learners get feedback to help them identify their strongest subjects. This information empowers learners to choose subjects aligned with their desired careers.

What can you do as a parent or guardian to ensure your child chooses the best subject set for Grades 10 to 12?

Here are some factors to consider before making these vital choices with your child:

• Remember, not every child can become a doctor or engineer. The demand for these courses is intense, and many exceptional, academically gifted learners were denied access to these courses.

• Know your child’s limitations and abilities. A child’s aptitude is an innate ability that can be developed further. It will allow them to perform well in a certain area. Usually, there is a close relationship between aptitude, interest, and academic performance.

• It is better to let your child complete an excellent matric with subjects in which they can achieve above 50% for entrance to university courses. Re-evaluate career choices if mathematical literacy is the better option.

• Consider your child’s personality. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences is a theory proposed by the Harvard psychologist worth looking into to understand your child’s strengths and intelligence.

• Your child, and not the parents, is the one who ultimately has to write assessments and exams on the subject set chosen to fulfil the requirements and demands of the subject. Therefore, the learner must be the centre of the decision-making process.

• Decision-making needs to be informed, meaning a learner cannot make a proper decision without researching the future course/degree’s requirements and the minimum requirements for acceptance into these tertiary courses.

• Physical science and mathematics are demanding subjects, so if a learner wants consideration for these subjects, they should be achieving marks above 50%.

• Parents should not force their children to take subjects they consider important or better than others. The best choice will always be the subjects the learner feels they can cope with and those that interest them the most.

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