Local experts disagree on whether SA has worst maths and science education

2014-06-02 00:00

A RECENT global report puts South Africa last in 148 countries in terms of the standard of mathematics and science teaching, but two local experts disagree on the implications this has for the country’s pupils.

A report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which looked at the financial development in 148 countries, this weekend listed Singapore, Finland and Belgium as offering the best mathematics and science education and teaching.

South Africa’s education is rated as the poorest on the list, below countries like Egypt, the Dominican Republic and Angola.

Professor Kobus Maree, education and mathematics expert at the University of Pretoria (UP), said the report was not news to him and it is a big tragedy.

“I don’t have a lot of hope for the future,” he said.

“We are more and more becoming a nation where we do not have the expertise to supply vital skills. If we don’t see these people achieving in mathematics and science, where will our engineers, architects and city planners come from?”

Tim Gordon, an education expert and CEO of the Governing Body Foundation, said the statistics do not show the full picture and instead compared apples with pears.

He said he could not accept that South Africa’s education was this bad and reminded that South Africa is one of the top nations in terms of school-going pupils.

“We are, therefore, comparing apples with pears, because we compare basically the whole cohort with a much smaller selection group in other countries.”

He said South Africa’s exams were also more rigid than those of some other countries. He said there were too many stories from other countries where the pupils see tests before their exams or where teachers assist their pupils during exams.

Gordon said other factors, like hunger, also played a role in South Africa’s low rating, as did the fact that South African pupils are forced to take mathematics, despite too few mathematics teachers and gaps in their training.

Both Maree and Gordon said the current state of education could be changed for the better, but it would require keeping good teachers regardless of their race.

Gordon said teaching must be made more attractive as a career so that the teachers will be recognised and appreciated for rendering an essential service.

They said teachers must also be held accountable with a credible benchmark and determined consequences for poor results.

Both Gordon and Maree said mathematics and science teachers should specialise from early on in their career and not be involved in other subjects.

Gordon said pupils who are not interested in mathematics must get the opportunity to choose another subject.

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