“Without mathematics, there’s nothing you can do. Everything around you is Mathematics. Everything around you is numbers.”

These are the words from Shakuntala Devi, an Indian mental calculator and writer, popularly known as the “Human Computer”.

According to Devi, everything in our world has a mathematical grounding. Your smartphone, laptop, television, and car all happened because of maths. Cooking is maths and so is construction, music, art, design, and sport.

And that’s why it is so vitally important that our children learn maths at school and learn it well, says Crispian Lees, head of education at Advantage Learn.

Lees says a recent study by Stellenbosch University’s Research on Socioeconomic Policy unit (RESEP) came up with some disturbing findings, including that the failure rates of Grade 9s in Maths rose to 80% last year. RESEP also found that some Grade 9s write numbers backwards, and in an international mathematics study, 54% of them achieved points below the international standard.

“None of this is good news. Maths is a scarce skill, and it is essential that learners are skilled in it to get meaningful employment and improve their standards of living,” Lees says.

Added to the deterioration in maths skills is the declining rate of students writing mathematics in South Africa. Year-on-year there has been a significant drop-off in matrics writing mathematics and a declining pass rate for the learners who do write the exams, according to data from the Department of Basic Education.

“The drop in numbers should be of great concern. Performance in mathematics matters for university entrance. Without it, school leavers are not eligible for programmes at universities in science or engineering or some in commerce. A decline signals that the doors of opportunity in these fields are closing to a growing number of students and the skills scarcity in these sectors is getting worse,” Lees says.

The solution to some of these concerns, Lees believes, is to combine digital learning with a bricks and mortar (school) environment.

Digital help is a great resource in our under-resourced schools. While technology will never replace good educators, educators who embrace technology will replace those who don’t, he says.

“Digital learning resources allow teachers to take their teaching to a new level. These digital resources allow educators to seamlessly migrate from different streams of learning. They can also remediate gaps from previous years or advance gifted learners.

“What digital resources also bring with them is realtime analytics for teachers to see what learners know and where the gaps in their knowledge are.

“Teachers are incredibly busy people, and when learners fall behind with Maths, it usually requires them to spend time they really don’t have to try and bring individual learners up to speed.”

A digital resource means that teachers can assign extra work for those falling behind or those who are failing to grasp certain concepts and that the teacher (and parents) can get proper feedback from the digital programmes especially when learners are working from home or away for a period of time.

Lees says learners can access a wealth of digital resources to support them outside the classroom – all without being in the presence of a teacher. “This teaches children to embrace self-learning, which is on its own an essential skill.  Digital resources, like our Neo Series Mathematics resources, actively test learners’ understanding of the subject, they get to try examples and get marked feedback,” he says.