Math Core or Math Lit: Which to choose?

When making a decision with regards to which career path to follow, students are faced with the daunting task of choosing subjects. Especially which one to choose between Mathematics and Mathematics Literacy. This article will serve as an analytical tool to concisely analyze the distinct features of Mathematics commonly known as “Math or Math Core” and Mathematical literacy commonly known as “Math Lit.” We will also look at the pros and cons of both subjects. Lastly, we will look at the advantages and disadvantages of both subjects in terms of university admission.

It is important to note that in the Further Education and Training (FET) phase, a Mathematical Subject is among the top three compulsory subjects for every learner in South Africa. In 2006, the Department of Basic Education accommodated those who struggled to attain marks for pure Math by introducing Math Lit. Therefore, learners could choose either one of the two. Even though “Math is difficult” happens to be a mantra which every high school learner chants, the general consensus is that Math is the most important subject for university. But is that true?

By far Mathematics is the most repeated subject at Elroi Academy, and the subject most added to a Matric Certificate by upgraders. This is because it certainly is the determining subject in many tertiary professional careers. A student that does well in English and Mathematics has most degree fields available for study. But the question remains does that mean that every student should endeavour to take Mathematics at school?

Let’s try to answer that question by looking at the distinct features of both subjects.\

Distinct features of Mathematics

Math Core is an abstract subject where you study Math as science which relies on a good understanding of algebra and Mathematical laws. Most students ask the question: “where will I ever use this in real life”, and the answer is: “depends on what you will do in real life”. Most Mathematics in Grade 10 to 12 aims to lay a foundation for tertiary careers paths where the real and powerful application of Mathematics will be studied. Only then will you truly be able to answer that question.

Distinct features of Mathematical Literacy

Mathematical Literacy, however, deals with Mathematics in everyday life: making numbers, formulas and basic algebra work to understand and improve the world around you. Every single person whether good or bad at Maths core can benefit from this subject, as it is useful on a daily basis..

Pros and Cons of Mathematics

Mathematics is a subject that provide learners with an opportunity to be acquainted with how numbers relates to each other, an understanding of the various shapes available in the world we live in, this is a subject which can make a learner to be accustomed to problem solving, a subject that can stimulate the cognitive skills of a learner for it theories and abstract concept. This is a required subject for learners who want to pursue a STEM field, that is a field of study in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, which is a field of studies that has a common interest in innovation, problem-solving and critical thinking.

On the other hand, Mathematics is an abstract subjects and very difficult for some students. Math Core, in most cases cannot be used in everyday life, for it is based on theories and abstract concepts whose application is only really relevant in higher education field. But nonetheless a learner who does well in Mathematics has a higher chance to be accepted at most universities.


  • It challenges and develops thinking, reasoning and problem solving.
  • It can be very stimulating and rewarding when appreciated and understood.
  • if done well the student has almost all careers paths available to them.


  • It is difficult
  • It can cause tremendous stress
  • If failed the learners fails to have access to University at all.

Pro and Cons of Mathematical Literacy

Mathematical Literacy assists learners to use numbers to solve everyday problems; this is a subject whereby learners can have access to learn how numbers can be used to critically analyze common situations. Furthermore for learners who want to go into art and those that are linguistically inclined this is the subject to choose, learners can still pursue successful careers with Mathematical Literacy if STEM fields are not necessary for them.


  • Very useful and practical subject
  • With hard work and practice there is no reason why the learner cannot easily get a distinction.


  • STEM fields are not available for University Studies.
  • Learners tend to not take the subject serious and therefor neglect to work and do as well as they could.

Important Note for Parents

It is critical for parents to have a meaningful dialogue with their children, especially in the area of career choices so that they can get to know the abilities of their children thus being able to help them in choosing between Mathematics and Mathematical Literacy. Furthermore, even though it is difficult to have a clear picture of what career one should pursue, it is always advisable to choose subjects which will give you more options. It is also important to note that one can do Mathematics at a later stage should the student want to change career path or find it too difficult to pass Mathematics at a Matric level.

In an interview with Pieter Rousseau, the principal of Elroi Academy, was asked a few important and frequently asked questions with regard to Math and Math Lit.

Q: What is the difference between Math and Math Lit.

A: Math is a more abstract subject whereas Math Lit is a more applied subject. in pure Math you would study Math as a science. It is studying the subject and looking at theories and things that seem quite abstract and rely on a good understanding of Mathematical laws and principles. For Math Lit, however, it is a more practical way of using Mathematics in our everyday lives to make sense of the world, and let numbers work for us.

Q: Is Math the doorway to success?

A: Absolutely not. In fact, it is the greatest problem for students because students think it’s the doorway to success. They often choose Mathematics and don’t do well enough. As a result, they don’t get university admission at all. It completely hinders them from pursuing tertiary education. It is a requirement for many university degrees and gives you extra options but if you don’t get at least 40-50% you will have more doors open with Math Lit.

Q:What advice would you give to someone who is unsure of which subjects to take?

A: Know why you need it. If you need Math, it gives you reason and motivation to work hard at it and an external motivation to do well. If you really want to be an engineer or a computer programmer, if you really want to pursue a career which requires Math then you obviously need to take Math and have to work hard at it. But if you don’t know what you want to do with your life, then my next question is how well do you do in Math? If you do well, then by all means, take the subject as far as you can because it will give you the most options. If you are not doing well then Math Lit is a good decision for you. If you do well in it, it will open many doors.

Q: How does Elroi Academy come alongside students with regards to the choices they make?

A: So with Elroi Academy, we have student advisors and student counselors in helping you decide what decisions to make. And the most important decision is, “where are you going, what is your hope and your purpose in life?” And so we want to pursue helping you discover that purpose so you can know which subjects to take that are relevant and valuable for your future goals. We often make mistakes but this should not hinder us. With Elroi, you may change subjects later and even if you have completed your Matric and did not have the correct subjects, you can always still add them after Matric. Although this might mean you will take a year or two extra to complete before you can go into your desired career path.

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