Top marks for foreign teachers

2014-01-08 00:00

EDUCATION experts have credited foreign science teachers for much of KwaZulu-Natal’s improved matric performance — but warned that the pass rate results masked a slight overall drop in standards.

Anthony Pierce, KZN director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation (Naptosa), said the results marked a historic “shift” in which township and rural schools were “beginning to produce good and even excellent results”.

In addition to acknowledging the provincial Education Department, Pierce credited the cohort of teachers from, in particular, Zimbabwe and Ghana for much of the turn-around.

About 6 000 foreign teachers — most with skills in maths and science tuition, and the bulk from Zimbabwe — are teaching at South African schools.

Pierce said: “KwaZulu-Natal has had a real problem in attracting quality teachers to rural and township schools — even the new bursary scheme to attract South African science and maths teachers to these schools is not working — and it’s now time that we acknowledged the great job that our foreign teachers are doing.

“KZN probably has the highest percentage of foreign teachers in the country. But the MEC’s presentation also shows that the claim that resources produce results is a fallacy.”

However, Pierce admitted that despite the jump in both the national and KZN pass rates, lowered pass requirements and easier subjects meant that “in real terms, learners probably did not perform as well overall as in 2011”.

Professor Johan Muller, director of the Graduate School at the University of Cape Town, said he was sceptical about the dramatic pass rate increases for the country and the provinces — saying “statisticians will tell you any increase of three percent is cause for automatic suspicion, much less than the eight and nine percentage point increases we saw for some provinces”.

He said increases in maths and science “do not gel” with benchmark tests, including a 2013 World Economic Report which ranked South Africa as the second worst country in the world for the subjects, only ahead of Yemen. Muller said he was concerned that the jumps could reflect “a trend to push more pupils into easy subjects such as (maths literacy and life orientation), because of the pressure on schools to boost their pass rates”.

He said only exam markers in the Western Cape had passed competency tests — and that he was “sceptical” about the validity of scores in other provinces.

“Tests have shown that up to 50% of Grade 12 teachers cannot pass the Grade 12 tests — so if you have a situation where kids know more than the teachers, what are the odds of those teachers marking answers wrong?” said Muller.

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