Grade 6 pupils beat teachers at maths

2013-10-27 19:31

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Johannesburg - Some Grade 6 pupils are outperforming their teachers in mathematics tests.

This is the alarming result of a study by Nicholas Spaull, a University of Stellenbosch researcher, City Press reported on Sunday.

The news comes as South Africa’s 707 136 matrics start their final exams on Monday.

The maths pass rate has averaged at 45% since 2008, with most school leavers managing to scrape through with marks of between 40% and 49%.

If Spaull’s research is an indication of things to come, the maths crisis in schools appears to be far from over.

Spaull found that Grade 6 teachers - who were the focus of his research - from disadvantaged schools across South Africa cannot solve basic arithmetic problems.

And there is no reason to believe that teachers in primary school grades are any better.

“One of the most striking features of inequality in South Africa is that the best-performing Grade 6 pupils know more than some Grade 6 teachers, albeit not their own,” Spaull said.

“There is a case to be made that teachers who lack an elementary understanding of the subjects they teach can actually do harm to their pupils.

“A lack of basic content knowledge among teachers is a problem that should be addressed urgently, said Spaull.

Competency tests

Spaull has now suggested the reintroduction of the controversial teacher competency tests, which the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) vehemently opposes.

“The existing body of evidence suggests that a large proportion of South African teachers have below-basic content knowledge in the subjects that they teach – largely as a result of inadequate apartheid-era teacher training and the ineffectiveness of in-service teacher training initiatives,” he said.

“In light of this, and following the premise that teachers cannot teach what they do not know, it is a logical imperative that a system of identifying which teachers need what help is urgently required.”

But Sadtu says the tests are not an option. The union’s general secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, acknowledged that some teachers could not do maths, but said it was not because they were stupid.

“The issue is we don’t have specialised teachers. We take people who did history or geography and ask them to teach maths. What do you expect?”

He said Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga should prioritise the opening of teacher training colleges to train teachers in specialisations.

Read more on:    sadtu  |  education

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