Pupils fail to make the grade

2009-06-25 00:00

ROUGHLY eight in every 10 pupils in grades three and six are achieving less than 50% for maths and language skills.

This is the bleak picture that has emerged from a report acquired by Beeld, which is based on the performance of pupils in national examinations at the end of last year.

It shows that South African children are still falling far short of the national Education Department’s goal of their being able to achieve an average of 50% by 2011.

The report is based on last year’s results of one million grade three and grade six pupils in 7 000 schools.

The results show that 35% of grade three pupils countrywide are scoring only between zero percent and 34% for maths, while 37% are getting between zero percent and 34% for languages.

As for grade six pupils, the situation is worse, with 54% getting between zero percent and 34% for maths and 53% scoring between zero percent and 34% for languages.

Nationally, 15% of grade three pupils achieved 70% or more for maths and literacy respectively.

A meagre six percent of grade six pupils scored 70% or more for maths, with 10% achieving 70% or more for languages.

The performance patterns show that as far as literacy is concerned, pupils are doing badly at understanding a simple text they are reading.

Grasping the correct use of tenses, especially the future tense, also appeared to be problematic.

The pupils also fared badly when they had to comprehend or deduce the message of a text or the meaning of certain words.

In languages, pupils struggled with creative writing in response to a text — they don’t possess the ability to read with understanding and then respond accordingly.

They experienced many problems with the interpretation of simple idiomatic expressions.

In maths, pupils fared badly with calculations in which simple fractions were subtracted. Most also found solving problems involving simple financial transactions very difficult.

Pupils also struggled with converting common fractions, decimals and percentages, and rounding off numbers.

What also caused great difficulty were rewriting numbers in numerical form when they were given in words, subtracting amounts in rands and cents, and carrying out instructions like “halve” and “double”.

The department reached the conclusion that most pupils are performing at levels one and two (between zero and 50%) in literacy and numeracy.

Both grade three and grade six pupils are functioning at very basic cognitive levels, which are limited to directly deducing information from texts and visual cues. Complex cognitive skills, such as understanding a text, inferring implied messages, making predictions and drawing conclusions have not yet been developed.

In numeracy, pupils learn mainly iconically; that is, through shapes, diagrams and pictures. High-order numeracy skills are largely absent in both grade threes and grade sixes.

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