Emeritus Professor John Webb, Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, University of Cape Town

Each day of this course will explore an interesting mathematical theme that does not require a strong technical background, but which elucidates key mathematical concepts. Participants will learn about indigenous mathematics. They will be invited to reflect on the question whether – and, if so, why – boys do better than girls at mathematics.  When mathematics comes up in news, reporters often get the facts wrong: the third lecture examines some illustrative cases. The fourth lecture gives tips on how to avoid losing at number-based games. The course ends with a consideration of the role mathematics has played in the world’s most heinous political systems.



1. African mathematics: indigenous mathematics

2. Mathematics and gender: Why do boys do better than girls at maths?  Or do they?

3. Mathematics in the news: How newspapers handle maths stories? And often get it wrong.

4. Mathematical games: How to win them, or at least, how not to lose

5. Mathematics and politics: Apartheid, anti-semitism and other stories


Recommended reading

Conway, J.H. 1976. On Numbers and Games. London: Academic Press.

Zaslavsky, C. 1973.  Africa Counts: Number and Pattern in African Cultures. Boston: Prindle, Weber and Schmidt.

Miller, C. & Quealy, K. ‘Where Boys Outperform Girls in Math: Rich, White and Suburban Districts’.

 New York Times, 13 June 2018.

Paulos, J.A. 1995. A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, M. Mathematical games published in Scientific American, 1956–1980.

Gessen, M. 2011. Perfect Rigour. Icon Books.



Date: 7 – 11 January 
Time: 9.15 am
COURSE FEES Full: R550,00  Staff and Students R275,00
Venue: LT2 Kramer Law Building UCT