Gloomy school picture again …

2013-10-21 00:00

THE learning deficits children acquire early hinder their ability to learn in later years, until it becomes a vicious cycle in which catching up is impossible.

This gloomy picture is contained in a study just released by the Centre for Development and Enterprise.

But all is not lost, say university experts Professor Charles Simkins and Nicholas Spaull, who wrote the report. “The best way to improve education is to focus on the primary level.”

The experts say only 50% of pupils who start school will make it to Grade 12; 40% will pass the National Senior Certificate (NSC) and 12% of those who start school will qualify for university.

They argue that the NSC pass rates are “somewhat distorted” because the forcing out of weaker pupils before they reach Grade 12 automatically inflates the pass rates. This is because a smaller and better quality fraction writes the NSC than in the past.

As previous studies and experts have suggested, South Africa’s mathematics teachers are near the bottom compared to world standards.

“Mathematics teaching is often of poor quality, with teachers not able to answer questions on the curriculum they are teaching, one indicator of the challenge. Often national testing is misleading as it does not show the major gap at lower grade levels.”

According to the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, South Africa performed worse than any other middle-income country.

An average Grade 9 pupil in SA is two years’ learning behind the average Grade 8 pupil from 21 other middle income countries in mathematics and 2,8 years behind in science, they added.

In the 2012 Annual National Assessment, Grade 9 maths results were cause for great concern with only two percent of participants scoring above 50%.

“A key factor is mathematics schooling, which is very poor in a global context and deeply rooted in lower grades,” the study added.

The study also emphasised teacher quality as very important and said it was also vital for businesses to examine corporate social investment to assist government.

Dr Edith Dempster of UKZN shared the researchers’ sentiments. She said there seems to be focus on Grade 12 while the other grades are neglected.

“It has got to stop, as well as the way kids are coached to pass the exams and not engaging them in deep learning,” she said.

Dempster believes that the real problem facing education is what is “not happening” in the classroom.

She said teachers need to pull their weight and unions must change their focus.

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