Adding up SA's dire math emergency

2014-07-06 15:00

South Africa’s children are in the grip of a major maths crisis with pupils in thousands of schools across the country unable to obtain more than 30% for a standardised maths test.

City Press obtained the results data from individual schools that wrote the Annual National ­Assessments – tests written in schools countrywide to assess how well they can read and count – last year.

The results, of primary school children between grades 1 and 6, and Grade 9 high school children, was obtained in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, and show that our children’s maths results are getting worse as they get older.

The information revealed that just more than 40% of Grade 3 children obtained 50% or less for maths, as did two-thirds of all Grade 6s, and 96% of Grade 9s.

The data also shows that in 2?411 schools across the country, all the Grade 9s scored between 0% and 30% for maths. The same dismal mark was obtained by all of the Grade 6s in 429 schools and among all of the Grade 3s in 59 of the country’s primary schools.

In these bad schools, the average results for the maths Annual National ­Assessments ranged between 1% and 5%.

Children across the country wrote the 2014 Annual ­National Assessments last month and the results are ­expected to be released in December.

Last year, Limpopo fared the worst in the results stakes across grades 3, 6 and 9, while the largely rural provinces of Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape did not fare much better.

.?In the Grade 3 tests, 23% of Limpopo’s children obtained less than 30%, in comparison with 19% of Mpumalanga’s children and 18% of those in the Northern Cape.

.?In the Grade 6 maths tests, 49% of Limpopo’s children obtained 30% or less. Second last was the Eastern Cape, where 47% of children scored those marks, followed by Mpumalanga with 45.4% of children.

.?In the Grade 9 tests, 96% of Limpopo’s children scored 30% or less, as did 92% of the Northern Cape’s children and 91% of those in Mpumalanga.

Stellenbosch University research economist Servaas van der Berg said that “on some measures, Limpopo schools ­perform very badly”.

“We don’t always see this in the matric results, because many children leave the system long before reaching matric. It is a very poor province that didn’t historically have very good levels of education,” he said.

However, among Limpopo’s five worst performing Grade 9 schools, there were some correlations between the Grade 9 marks and the matric results.

Sethula Secondary School in Bangalong Village, Lephalale, where the children’s average Annual National ­Assessments maths mark was 2.74%, only had an 11.8% matric pass rate last year.

In Bessie Maake High School in Majakaneng Village, Grade 9s received on average 2.78% for maths and had a 28% matric pass rate last year.

Van der Berg said the 2012 textbook scandal in the province, when schools remained without textbooks and workbooks for much of the year, may have been a contributing factor.

The department of basic education’s National Education Evaluation and Development Unit found, in a report on the ­Annual National ­Assessments published last year, that language presented a considerable difficulty to children who didn’t write the tests in English, as the terms used in the question papers often differ from those used by their teachers in the classroom.

The same research found that maths teachers were severely underskilled. An average of only 67% of maths teachers surveyed possessed basic arithmetic skills, and just under 50% could master fractions, ratio and proportion. Only 46.5% could solve mathematical problems with algebra.

The department’s researchers also found that limited ­subject knowledge extended to subject advisors and circuit managers in district offices as well.

“The system’s poor performance in Grade 3 shows us that our foundation is crumbling, and that the minister will have to appoint the very best mathematics teachers in the foundation phase,” said Dr Jaco Deacon, deputy CEO of the school governing body federation Fedsas.

However, some experts have reservations about the tests themselves. Marion Joseph, professional development officer for the Gauteng branch of teacher union Naptosa, said there are “grave reservations” about the effect the tests are having in classrooms.

“Things are moving more and more towards improving ­results, not about improving learning,” she said.

» 40% of Grade 3 children obtained 50% or less for maths, as did two-thirds of those in Grade 6 and 96% in Grade 9

Worst performing schools

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