Pupils' perceptions of study of Mathematics as a subject for the Senior Certificate examination: two case studies.
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This study was conducted at two Secondary schools in the Pietermaritzburg area which is in the province of Kwazulu - Natal, South Africa. Of the 182 pupils who participated in this investigation, 97 were from a Black High school and 85 from an Indian Secondary school. The aim of this study was to gain insights into pupils; perceptions of Mathematics. The motivation was that such an exploratory investigation could contribute significantly to the understanding of some of the principal underlying factors that have contributed to the current crisis in mathematics education. The knowledge gained could inform future research in Mathematics education and educational strategies aimed at increasing the number of pupils studying Mathematics at matriculation level. Since there exists a significant racial skewing in favour of White, Coloured and Indian pupils in the percentages of matriculants studying Mathematics for the Senior Certificate Examination, the research focused on the perceptions of Black and Indian pupils. The prevention of further disruptions to the studies of matriculants and the need for a manageable sample necessitated the use of two groups of Standard 9 pupils. The study therefore acquired the characteristics of the case study method of investigation. Open - ended questionnaires, interviews and written essays were used for the purposes of data collection. In examining pupils' perceptions, factors such as biographical details, future aspirations, pupils' explanations for studying/ not studying Mathematics, their preference for the subject, pupils' views on whether more pupils should study the subject, as well as the status of the examination subjects, were considered. Findings suggested that all pupils - even those not studying Mathematics - had similar perceptions of the importance Mathematics, although their learning experiences had been significantly different. The curricula experiences of pupils appeared to have been influenced by past apartheid policies. However, the classroom experiences on which pupils' perceptions of Mathematics were based appeared to have been directly responsible for the low numbers of pupils studying Mathematics for examination purposes. Critical theory played an important role in the interpretation of the major findings. These interpretations suggest that the classroom experiences of pupils were crucial in that they influenced pupils' decisions to select or not to select Mathematics as an examination subject. The study concluded with recommendations for classroom practice and research areas in Mathematics education which would improve the existing educational experiences of disadvantaged pupils.