Dubious standards

2009-01-06 00:00

THE matriculation results have been greeted with acclamation by politicians who see in them “significant achievements” and a justification for the much vilified new Outcomes Based Education syllabus. The fact that it is an election year adds to their delight. Their joy is encouraged by the euphemistic nomenclature of the new system. Passes can be outstanding, meritorious, substantial, adequate, moderate or elementary. Even if a pupil has gained less than 30% in a subject he or she has not failed, merely “not achieved”.

Not everyone is taken in by such spin. Where else in the world can a pupil pass despite failing one subject and where only 30% is required in three subjects and 40% in another three? Universities that are the suspicious recipients of pupils who have supposedly gained a university entrance pass are to run a pilot project to test the new curriculum. Experienced teachers who have been working at the chalkface of education are equally dubious. A Concerned Mathematics Educators (CME) group, for instance, believes that the matric maths examination was watered down and, while producing what might appear to be encouraging statistics, in fact has widened the gap between school and university for top students.

Moreover, there is usually a high degree of correlation between mathematics and science results. However, while 21,2% of pupils scored above 50% in maths, only 14,9% scored that in physical science. According to CME this is a sure sign that the standard of the maths exam has dropped to an unacceptable level. And, despite this, 60% of matric candidates still failed maths, a figure which stands in extraordinary contrast to the 78,7% pass rate in the new subject of mathematical literacy.

How is it possible for so many students to pass mathematical literacy in a country which, when compared with other countries in international studies, has one of the worst numeracy results in the world?

Raw scores in the matric exam have always been manipulated statistically. But one does not have to be a genius to realise that there is something very fishy behind this remarkable improvement in mathematical achievement. Are we moving to the dangerous situation in this country where everybody has a certificate but nobody can do the job?

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