1 in 6 matrics got less than 10% for maths

2012-01-28 18:09

One in six pupils who wrote last year’s matric maths paper got less than 10% and more than half got less than 30% for physical science, official figures obtained by City Press show.

The raw average marks for the 2011 matric papers spell out the ­sobering reality of South Africa’s ­education system. A reality in stark contrast to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s upbeat announcement of the improvement in the overall matric pass.

City Press obtained the figures from Umalusi, the body that oversees quality assurance.

We built our own database using previous years’ marks obtained through an access to information application to examine the matric trends.

The average mark for the maths paper was 29%, for physical ­science 32% and for life sciences 38% (after being adjusted from 34.9%).

Education specialists described the figures this week as “frightening” even though the overall matric pass rate for 2011 was 70%, up from 61% two years previously.

The raw marks for each paper paint a less optimistic picture and show how dismally South African pupils are failing at core, non-language subjects.

To obtain a final mark, Umalusi adjusts some of the marks either up or down based on various statistical factors.

The figures show only 9% of those who wrote maths and 10% of those who wrote physical science have, according to the department’s criteria, an adequate understanding of these subjects.

The numbers also show dramatic drops in pupils actually taking these critical subjects.

In 2008, 300 000 pupils wrote the maths paper, compared with only 225 000 last year.

Paul Colditz, CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools, said the drop in maths and science candidates could be an indication that pupils avoided “difficult” subjects to improve their chances of a matric pass.

Nearly 40 000 fewer matriculants wrote physical science last year than in 2009, while the figure for learners writing accounting was down by 36 000.

Dr Jonathan Clark, director of the University of Cape Town’s schools development unit, said: “Poor matric results in the ‘gateway’ subjects of mathematics and physical science throw into stark relief the extent of the under-performance of the South African schooling system.”

Education expert Professor Graeme Bloch said the figures were “frightening” and did not bode well for the future. “We are perhaps improving slowly,” he said, “but not fast enough for a competitive world.”

Colditz believes the pass mark should be set at the globally accepted standard of 50%.

“We are misleading ourselves and the learners,” he says. “A 50% would, however, reduce the number of successful candidates dramatically, and embarrass the political and education leaders.”

Matrics excelled in languages and across the 11 official languages, average marks of well above 50% have been achieved.

Wits University education Professor Mary Metcalfe said the average marks were shocking.

“These maths results are deeply worrying for our progress in scarce skill areas. Many teachers need more support with both mathematics and the specific challenges of teaching concepts.

The Umalusi data show, however, that far fewer pupils enrolled for English and Afrikaans as a home language than in previous years.

In 2009, 55 000 pupils wrote Afrikaans home language exams. This figure has now dropped to 48 000. The average was 59%.

In 2009, 95 000 pupils wrote the English home language paper, compared with 85 400 last year. The average was 56%.

In comparison, Zulu home language matriculants achieved an average of 65% and Xhosa exam-takers scored an average mark of 64% – up from 60% in 2010.

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