A critical analysis of the pre-calculus course at U.W.C.
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Mathematical knowledge and skills have, over the last few decades, become very important in terms of study and work opportunities. Unfortunately, schools in South Africa have not met the expectations of their pupils or the country in terms of delivering the appropriate number of students mathematically equipped for scientific study at universities. To redress this imbalance many tertiary institutions offer foundation courses to accommodate students who did not attain a matriculation exemption to gain entry to tertiary study. The Pre-Calculus course at the University of the Western Cape forms part of the foundation course of the university. This study analyzes the Pre-Calculus course for the identification of its attributes that would act as substitute for a matriculation exemption in terms of higher grade mathematics and for the empowering of its students to study other subjects in the science faculty. To this end questions from higher grade mathematics matriculation examination papers were analyzed to identify the mathematical thinking and algorithmic skills that are tested at this level. Subsequently it is shown that the Pre-Calculus course does indeed have the content that can facilitate the development of these skills. The students in the Pre-Calculus course were given the opportunity via an extensive questionnaire to give their opinion of the course, the problems they had while studying Pre-Calculus, their motivation for studying mathematics and the effect the course had on them emotionally. They also had the opportunity to criticize and make recommendations about the course. The information gained from the questionnaire supplemented by the observations of the author gives good insight into the problems and ideals of these students. Recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the Pre-Calculus course and recommendations for further research conclude this study.