Our kids can’t spell, count or understand what they read

2013-07-21 14:00

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» Random tests show SA school pupils are way below par

»Analysts blame poor teaching and the legacy of OBE

They can’t count, spell or understand what they read.

The release of a new shock report by the basic education department reveals that South African schoolchildren in grades 3, 6 and 9 are functionally illiterate, don’t understand simple English, and can’t grasp basic mathematical concepts.

These findings are revealed in the Annual National Assessment Diagnostic Report, which was published last month and aimed to test the language and maths skills of pupils across the country in those three grades.

Researchers randomly sampled and remarked test papers, selected from all government schools across the country – including former Model C, township and rural schools. These tests were written as part of the annual national assessment last September.

Their report found that most pupils could barely do maths and that only a few could score more than 50% in the test.

The diagnostic report also provides examples of just how grim the picture is.

“The analysis suggests that most learners have not mastered the knowledge and skills that are appropriate to the grade in which they are placed,” the report reads.

In maths, the most striking weakness pupils displayed was the inability to perform basic computations such as adding, subtracting and algebra. In English, the most shocking finding was that most pupils from all three grades surveyed were unable to understand what they read.

“In many instances, learners showed significant inadequacy in writing meaningful, correctly punctuated sentences,” the report said.

Examples of poor performance include:

» Grade 3s were asked to rewrite “when is my brothers birthday,” using correct punctuation. One wrote: “When is my Brothers birthday.”

» Grade 6s were asked to name one way in which a child could be prevented from drinking paraffin. One wrote “they could die now” as the answer.

» A Grade 6 pupil was unable to write four million, two hundred and eighty three thousand one hundred and sixty four in numerical form, providing “4000000 283 164” as the answer.

» When asked how many kilometres a car travelling at 100km/h would cover in 45 minutes, a Grade 6 pupil wrote: “40km/h”.

National education department spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi said teachers and district offices would use the report to “deal with the deficiencies”.

“Copies of the diagnostic report have been distributed widely to schools and recommendations in the report will be implemented.”

Lesufi also said the department would begin intensive training courses for maths and language teachers.

To improve language skills, the report recommends that all pupils have dictionaries and teachers spend a lot of time on literature.

To fix maths, it recommends that teachers give pupils more exercises and use real objects, tables and graphs to demonstrate concepts.

Education analyst Graeme Bloch said it was critical to get good teachers in the early grades.

“We are churning out more teachers, but we are not getting enough foundation phase teachers. I like the department’s emphasis on the foundation phase and workbooks. The workbook is much more prescriptive and detailed.”

The department published and issued workbooks to all pupils to ensure that they cover the curriculum.

Bloch also slammed the department for asking teachers who knew nothing about a particular subject to teach it.

Equal Education (EE) blames the recently discarded outcomes-based education (OBE) system for the mess. OBE has been replaced by the new curriculum assessment policy statement (Caps) under Motshekga’s leadership.

EE chairperson Yoliswa Dwane said: “The cause of this problem is that 98% of teachers are qualified, but they lack the skills to understand what they teach and to deliver the content.

“OBE had no focus, it didn’t pay attention to reading and writing. There was a move to do away with teaching to read, write and count,” she added.

Clueless kids

» Send us your story: Do you know of any teachers who are bucking the trend? Send your story to web@citypress.co.za

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