Can't-count nation

2011-01-10 00:00

SOUTH Africa's information and communication technologies (ICT) sector still faces a skills crisis, as the number of matriculants­ who passed mathematics at the end of last year declined, which threatens economic development in the sector and the economy as a whole.

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga recently released the country's matric pass rates for 2010. Last year's class achieved a pass rate of 67,8%, an improvement on the 60,6% who passed in 2009, and the highest rate in several­ years.

However, Motshekga is dismayed with the number of matriculants who passed mathematics.

"We are certainly not happy with the current number of passes in mathematics and have planned to continue investing significant effort and resources in ensuring that the pass rate, as well as quality of mathematics, is significantly improved this year," she says.

A total of 124 749 pupils passed mathematics — a decline from the 133 505 who passed a year ago. The number of students who passed physical science improved to 98 260 from 81 356 in 2009. Both subjects are key building blocks for entry into the ICT sector­.

Worrying trend

Solidarity deputy general secretary­ Dirk Hermann says the declining number of pupils passing mathematics is a great cause of concern for the future of the ICT sector and the economy, as a whole.

Hermann explains that the IT sector will be South Africa's future growth driver, but the impending skills crisis will lead to growth problems in ICT and in the economy. In addition, he says, the lack of skills will cause salaries to rise, which has the potential to drive up inflation.

Last year, 24,2% of all matriculants passed mathematics. Of these, only 9,6%, or 52 886 pupils, passed mathematics with a mark of 50% or higher, and a mere 1,6% obtained a distinction in this subject, according to Solidarity.

Looking at 2009's figures, Hermann­ says of the 1,44 million pupils who started school in 1997, only 0,6% eventually obtained a distinction in mathematics in 2009.

"It is likely that similar figures will apply in the case of 2010's matriculants­, which does not bode well for the school-leavers who received their results last week," he says.

Andile Tlhoaéle, CEO of Inforcomm and a member of the ICT charter steering committee, explains that successful professionals in the ICT sector typically have studied mathematics and science at a tertiary level.

Tlhoaéle explains that the lower numbers of pupils who have passed these subjects will trim the number of professionals from which the sector can choose in the next five years, especially as pupils­ with good marks in mathematics and science may select other­ career paths, such as medical­ science.

Mathematics and science are a core building block for success in the ICT sector, because of the heavy reliance on logic in applications within the industry, says Tlhoaéle­.

Smaller pool

Adrian Schofield, president of the Computer Society of South Africa, says that although 23,21% of matriculants passed mathematics, a much smaller percentage will qualify to be accepted at tertiary­ level, especially to universities.

"The inverted pyramid becomes even sharper in terms of where we are going to get the raw material from for future practitioners in technology," says Schofield. He says that the industry has been concerned for several years about the lack of young people­ entering the sector.

At tertiary level, says Schofield, there are concerns that the skills of matriculants are not up to the challenges presented by first-year courses.

It is not possible to ascertain how many of the 537 543 matriculants wrote mathematics and physical science, nor the level at which these pass rates were achieved, as the department's website returned a "server too busy" message throughout the course of the morning.

Some 23,5% matriculants qualified with a university exemption, up from 19,9% last year. — www.moneyweb

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