Pretoria – South Africa’s Grade 5 and 9 pupils continue to lag behind in mathematics and science when compared to their international counterparts, according to a study released on Tuesday.
The five lowest-performing countries were Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, South Africa, and Kuwait, said Dr Vijay Reddy, principal investigator of Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2015 Grade 5 study and executive director at the Human Sciences Research Council.
The top five countries were from East Asia: Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipei and Japan, according to the TIMSS 2015 study.
Within South Africa, the Western Cape, Gauteng, and Mpumulanga were the best-performing provinces. The three worst performers were North West, Limpopo, and Eastern Cape.
The study is a project of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) which aims to gauge the level and quality of education being offered.
Reddy said South African achievements continued to remain highly unequal. Only one-quarter of children at public, no-fee schools (Quintile 1, 2 and 3) got mathematics scores above the minimum level of competency.
Referring to Grade 9 results, she said 1.3% of South African mathematics pupils scored at the advanced level of achievement. Globally 6%, of pupils were at this level.
“We must support this group of high performing learners to improve their achievement scores,” she said.
Reddy said socio-economic indicators such as parents’ level of education and the number of books in a child’s home were positively related to achievement at school.
Those with more resources had higher mathematics scores. However, what parents did, mattered just as much. This included getting children involved in reading and learning maths from an early age, and having high expectations for their offspring.
Reddy said between a quarter and one-third of children in no-fee schools read books or played with alphabets, number toys, building blocks, or shapes. This was compared to half of pupils at independent schools.
There were differences in the extent of early educational activities for children from less and more affluent families. Children started Grade 1 with different levels of readiness and this difference widened as they progressed through the school system.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said the study pointed towards a steady, but upward, trajectory in the education sector. Within the context of a maturing democratic education system, there was much to be appreciated and much to be done, she said.