KZN’s big maths crisis

2012-12-04 00:00

GRADE 9 pupils in KwaZulu-Natal scored an average of 12% in mathematics in this year’s Annual National Assessments (ANA), while only 0,1% managed between 80% and 100%.

They did not fare well in languages either, with the average in home languages at 37,7%, and 32,3% in their first additional language.

Nationally, the Grade 9 maths average was 13%, home language stands at 43% and first additional language at 35%.

Announcing the ANA results yesterday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said the Grade 9 mathematics results were a cause for concern, but “not unexpected”.

“These results explain to a very large extent why, among many reasons, we have such a high failure and dropout rate at Grade 10 and [Grade] 11,” she said.

Motshekga was pleased with the performance of grades 1, 2 and 3 pupils, while there had been progress in grades 4, 5 and 6.

The report said the Grade 9 maths results were “below expectation” and will “receive the immediate attention of the Department of Basic Education through additional and more intensive structured intervention programmes”.

Over seven million pupils from Grade 1 to 6 and Grade 9 sat for the assessments in September.

ANA is used to examine pupils’ performance in literacy and numeracy.

Education expert Graeme Bloch said the results indicated that although South Africa does not necessarily have the worst education system, the country was “pretty close to the bottom”.

Bloch said that there should be more emphasis on infrastructure, the role of teachers, parents’ participation in education and extramural activities.

University of KwaZulu-Natal education expert Dr Edith Dempster said there was no room for complacency and excuses.

“Our education is in deep trouble relative to other countries. We do have to accept the reality that our children are underperforming.”

Dempster felt the assessments should be canned.

“We are trying to measure learning by assessments. Pupils should be learning to master skills and gain knowledge instead of learning just to pass tests,” she said.

Maritzburg College deputy headmaster Bryan Dibben said pupils did not take the assessments seriously because they did not count towards their year marks. Only top pupils took the tests seriously.

“We tell them they’re going to be writing exams for the government, and we don’t tell them that their marks won’t count [towards their final marks].”

Dibben wants the ANA marks to contribute a fraction of pupils’ final year marks.

Copesville Primary School principal Lungisani Mhlophe said Grade 1 and Grade 2 pupils should have practical tasks instead of written exams.

National Teachers’ Union deputy president Allen Thompson said the results were an improvement over the 2011 figures.

“It gives us a picture of what we need to improve on and where we’re lacking. It is giving us hope,” Thompson said, although he expressed disappointment with the Grade 9 maths marks.

He said the ANAs should be given the same status as the matric exams in terms of giving pupils the scope that the exam will cover, and marking should be centralised for the results to be more credible.

National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa president Basil Manuel said: “The results were not unexpected because they are a reflection of the system and its battles.”

He said although there were improvements in literacy in grades 3 and 6, the “shocker” was the Grade 9 results. “The road is long and whatever we’re doing in maths, we’re doing it wrong,” he said.

The National Association of School Governing Bodies’ Reginald Chiliza said the results showed the department had learnt nothing from the 2011 ANA results.

“If the average was 50% across the board, then we would call that an improvement. There is nothing to be proud of here,” he said.

Basic Education Department spokesperson Hope Mokgatlhe said that the department would use the information gleaned from the assessments to make interventions in classrooms.

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