Grade 6 pupils beat teachers at maths

2013-10-27 19:31

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.


  • KevinKing - 2013-10-27 19:37

    We must pray so that the evil spirits (#matricdevil) don't sabotage our matrics this year, well that's according to Angie! OR We can keep our youth dumbed down especially before elections. #GoodNewsForZuma ps #BananaRepublic

      Jaco Louw - 2013-10-27 19:50

      Well said, sir.

      Vokko Lossie - 2013-10-27 20:46

      Pinky Zuma, da right surname!

      drsparky - 2013-10-27 21:04

      Don't generalized Pinky - it only reinforces the stereotype about your race that I am working so hard to get rid of.

      Desilusionada - 2013-10-27 21:21

      Pinky, Yesterday I asked you a question, and you deleted your post. Seeing that you are on about tarnishing reputations, let us hear from you about the ANCs reputation for logical thinking about race. I pose the same question: How do you know you are black? Are you light black or dark black? How dark? How light? Please tell us what the physical features are of a black person. When should so called coloured people actually claim to be black? Are light skinned black people not actually coloured? Especially so that the white and black kids can know if they marry and have a kid themselves.....

      Barney Dino - 2013-10-28 07:16

      ..I wonder if showerhead can solve a grade 3 math problem.....

      Jurie Nel - 2013-10-28 08:07

      Don't wonder, Barney. I'm pretty sure he cannot.

  • Reagan Titus - 2013-10-27 19:37


  • Johan Steyn - 2013-10-27 19:38

    This is what you get if you force down affirmative action have a look at our goverment they won't even pass grade 5 math.

      Humbu Uhuru - 2013-10-27 20:45

      @Johan, what does AA has to do with this. Looking at your photo I thought U will know better but U prove me otherwise.

      Nathan Lombard - 2013-10-27 23:40

      It has everything to do with AA you morons. People appointed based on their shade instead of their abilities. I don't know of any institution or business that has benefited from affirmative action.

      Jurie Nel - 2013-10-28 08:13

      Nathan, your logic is right, but I could possibly enlighten you on your last sentence. Try, as a white family business micro enterprise which qualifies on BEE grounds to do business with the government, to obtain a tender within your scope. Once the tender has been awarded and you find out to whom and how they perform on the tender, you will see an institution or business that has benefited from AA.

  • Letlotlo Sephapo Malope - 2013-10-27 19:46

    Cry My Beloved Country. If these finding are in fact true then our Education System is sure in need of a serious overhaul. (/_\)

  • Kalahari Kgalagadi Safaris - 2013-10-27 19:48

    Affirmative Action rules! Viva dumb anc policies destroying our childrens future! Viva long live stupidity long live mediocrity viva!

  • Kalahari Kgalagadi Safaris - 2013-10-27 19:52

    Sadtu destroys our children by protecting dumb teachers. ANC tactics to dumb down people so they can control them

      willem.louw.16 - 2013-10-27 21:02


  • Siyabonga Zondi - 2013-10-27 20:04

    "grade 6 teachers from disadvantage schools across SA cannot solve basic arithmetic problem. And there is no reason to believe that teachers in primary school grades are any better". Does grade 6 no longer fall under primary school????

      Jurie Nel - 2013-10-28 08:19

      Excellent point, Siyabonga. And a crucial one. Well spotted.

  • Yondela Yhowu Valela - 2013-10-27 20:07

    Welcome to South Africa

      Hartmut Balzer - 2013-10-28 04:24

      and the unions!!!!!!!

  • Sthembiso Jali - 2013-10-27 20:11

    Well mathematics is indeed a very difficult subject especially for educators who studied under the Bantu education act of re-introduce the competent test can only course more problems for the system which already under a backlog by unions and their demands. The Anc government needs to appoint ministers on basis of educational qualifications and competence not on basis of how much time they spent on Robin Island.

      Luviwe Ka Jay - 2013-10-27 21:25

      Sthe I get your point of view on the backlog. What do u do to solve the immediate problem? The education of these kids is in ICU and it needs an urgent solution for the short-term.

      Stephanie Sutherland - 2013-10-28 04:06

      I have a temporary solution, while teachers are brought up to standard. Get volunteer maths teachers from overseas, who wish to do volunteer work. Their are those that would jump at the chance to have a crack in SA at teaching Maths. Volunteer means no money exchanging hands, thus no further pressure on the Tax payers already taxed to into the ground. That way teachers can be sent to learn the basics they need to educate children properly. Oh and if teachers don't want to learn how, fire them, because then they have no business teaching anyone.

      Jurie Nel - 2013-10-28 08:23

      Stephanie, excellent suggestions. But, I'm very much afraid, unlikely to be adopted by a government which believes it has all the answers, and applies a policy of dumbing down the population so as to be able to control people better.

      Mark Liprini - 2013-10-28 09:11

      Sthembiso i agree with that last apart of your piece about the "qualifications" of ministers. However i suggest that today we have a FAR bigger problem than competent ministers and the 1952 Bantu Education act. Luviwe said "The education of these kids is in ICU" .. succinct and sadly true. We have a system that is riddled with nepotism, incompetence, union action, lack of motivation, lack of resources (due to corruption and gross mismanagement) ... the dismal list is almost endless. I think Stephanie is onto a good idea there, but will the present "regime" ever do anything that is solely for the good of their people and has no personal kickback element involved? Sadly i think not. Somehow the unions HAVE to be throttled back, dead wood (ministers; management; teachers etc)HAS to be removed from the system; discipline HAS to be brought back to the school premises; educators that abuse their positions for personal/sexual favours HAVE to be fired and sentenced with no mercy; pass marks and standards HAVE to be raised to sensible levels; the curriculum has to be overhauled. Education facilities have to become safe places where learning is encouraged and enhanced. We are in a crisis and tough action has to be taken. We are playing Russian roulette with the economic future and well being of our magnificent country.

  • Bianca Lottering - 2013-10-27 20:14

    I concur with the findings, I studied at a schools that are classified a previously disadvantaged schools and I was way smarter than most of my teachers. From grade 10 I had a good maths teacher who thought I was special because I did not need to be thought anything, but the truth is I learned to teach myself as my grade 8 and 9 teacher were horrible at maths.

      willem.louw.16 - 2013-10-27 21:06

      It's how I got through university. I had a hand full of good lecturers and many more incompetent ones. I read the text books, did research and thought myself... Because knowledge cannot be taken away from you! People who are hungry for knowledge find a way. And people who are lazy and looking for the easy way out, will always find an excuse...

      Jurie Nel - 2013-10-28 08:26

      I salute both of you. There is no way in the world that a culture of entitlement and the acceptance of mediocrity can ever lead to excellence -- or even to barely acceptable existence.

      QuquzelaMzania - 2013-10-28 10:16

      What do you mean when you say you were "smarter than most of" your "teachers"? When you "studied at a schools that are classified a previously disadvantaged schools". (sic)

  • Zamani Myende - 2013-10-27 20:32

    Weh-mah-yeh, This is not a suprise! But a possibility. Only fools can be suprised. And people who dont understand 'Research'.

  • Ivan van Heerden - 2013-10-27 20:37

    Teachers training colleges???? Didn't the ANC decide that they were apartheid relics and unnecessary for our wonderful new educational system?

  • willem.louw.16 - 2013-10-27 20:57

    If u cant do grade 6 math, you shouldn't be teaching. Period. Any subject. We aren't even talking complex algebra or Trig yet... Standards people...

      Rodney Bevan - 2013-10-27 21:55

      Walter, don't be obtuse, Willem is not a teacher, so whether or not he knows the answer is irrelevant. Shame, and you thought you were being clever.

      Tol Smith - 2013-10-28 09:16

      Walterx it is 2/7

  • Maru Sebata - 2013-10-27 21:00

    Surprised???? What abt super charged Ben10s compared to 70 year old men, tht's life! Modern man cnnot think lk primitive man!

  • Dudu Son - 2013-10-27 21:01

    It was before 1994 when one of the Professors told his experience with a female student in his Maths class who used to raise her hand each time he solved Maths problems enquiring each time why the teacher was using long ROUTE and he would request her to draw the short one. She would come to the correct answer at half the time he would have taken. He went home and told his wife who advised him to introduce the topic and let the child to continue. This worked well for the teacher, the child and the class. They met later and the child was doing Medicine. The teaher's own Maths was excellent but that was a GIFTED child. If the teacher's own Maths score is below 80% very few children can get 70% from that teacher. Teachers at very early stage must be able to identify children with problems in grasping and help them. COMPULSORY MATHS ? Teachers that were struggling with Maths need not be forced by circumstances to teach this subject. I pity deep rural schools. With this I mean there are GIFTED children and education problems.

  • Moses Govender - 2013-10-27 21:05

    Politicians don't give a f**k about this...their kids are in private or model c schools and are probably the ones that can beat the teachers in other schools. As usual the poorest people in SA suffer. The only way to resolve this is for parents around the country to revolt as the Government has been rendered useless due to their relationship with teacher Unions. Parents wake up!!!!!!

  • Amos Mangezi - 2013-10-27 21:12

    Lets stay focused and vote president Zuma

      Albert Fourie - 2013-10-27 21:44

      You must be a maths teacher.Duh!

      Sidney Meyer - 2013-10-28 07:33

      Go ahead. Stay focused on voting for a president who didn't go to school. Stay focused on keeping yourselves inferior forever.

  • Shivan Singh - 2013-10-27 21:36


  • Albert Fourie - 2013-10-27 21:41

    How can one blame Apartheid for stupid brainless teachers for not able to teach basic maths.Surely from 1994 one must be able to figure out what is 1+1. Now some people blame "Bantu education" for the poor results.Bull dust you as teachers are simply too lazy and stupid to do your job what you are paid for.Stop eating pap and sheba and educate our children

      Manganyi Noel - 2013-10-28 07:05

      You are who you are today because of a teacher boss.

  • Dudu Son - 2013-10-27 21:44

    I think the Department of Education needs to design a system to attract and retain good Maths teacher as I think most of the few departments like Finance, Health, Ifrastrucure, Engineering to name a few, have been able to attract and keep more Maths SPECIALISTS than have Education department.

  • Teboho Matladi - 2013-10-27 22:05

    Did the researcher determine how many of teachers tested are qualified mathematics teacher? Earlier in the year I was asked to teach Natural Sciences and Technology, of which I don't have any formal qualifications or any teaching experience. I flatly refused. How many other teachers teach subjects they are not qualified for simply because at primary school a teacher is considered to be a 'jack of all trades'?!?!?!?

      Luviwe Ka Jay - 2013-10-27 22:17

      Teboho we need more people like in that department, unfotunately we won't as the is a huge unemployment in this country. I wonder if I would be you if given a choice, but I respect you for that honesty to the child first of all.

      Ronald - 2013-10-28 00:10

      Teboho, I am not even a qualified teacher, but I home school 2 children as well as run my company. Despite the workload of my company I prepare and present every lesson even though I had no training. The result is that we completed the year's work 2 months ahead of schedule, both passing their tests and Oxford grade exams with 80% plus. They are not considered above average and display the same potential as the average student out there. And all I depend on is my knowledge gained at school 30 years ago and preparation.

  • Khuliso Mutsha - 2013-10-27 22:24

    Sad news indeed, some educators are not serious about their jobs, this country need a new and vibrant educator union with a vision, affiliated by educators who know what they want do, not this SADTU circus.

  • Njabulo Fortune Mhlongo - 2013-10-27 22:50

    What does SADTU's general secretary mean "what do you expect?"? We would expect for the teachers to accept the help they need so that they can become better teachers... Its their job to TEACH and its in the interest of the children that they do it well... PRIDE ASIDE!!!

  • Mzwandile Dlamini - 2013-10-28 00:40

    Problem is, we still have teachers in the system, who learnt in Verwoed Bantu education... and still we hope they will produce better learners.That's a dream,so long as we have these teachers who were taught to "remember not to think" (Sic- verwoed's words) we still gonna have teachers who can't teach what they don't know. Honestly this has nothing to do with Angie, but she has to do something about it.The blame game wont help anyone but to continue suffering our kidz.

      Dudu Son - 2013-10-28 06:27

      I did that Bantu education but the difference is the teachers and the pupils respected their work, both were equally commited with few rights indeed. Some of the political decisions have been implemented have had negative effects. Those teachers only did Arithmetics but produced a numberof then only Maths carres Medicine. So it is a combination of factors that has dropped the level of the whole education system. What I am today was produced/0oulded in then standard 3 and 4.

  • Tusani Masoka - 2013-10-28 03:03

    Teachers with maths & science are leaving the teaching profession because there are no incentives given to them as they teach scarce subjects. The thing is,as long as the department doesn't take the initiative to pay more for the teachers who have these specializations,then these teachers would work for a while in the dept & then look for greener pastures.

  • Hartmut Balzer - 2013-10-28 03:57

    I see here in South Africa only unions, unions unionis. I think the whole unions onself need education if she come in this matter with no. Any people in any Job have a test time. Can you not perform after that. You lost the job finish and cleare.

      Motlalepula Matshwe - 2013-10-28 09:20

      I wonder who tested you. You must be out of English finish and klaar.

  • Francis Mataruka - 2013-10-28 06:00

    Aah please grade six maths for a teacher you do not neeed specialising sir

      Motlalepula Matshwe - 2013-10-28 09:18

      Francis all intermediate teachers should be specialist in their subjects that's from Grade 4 argue about things that you are informed about

  • Manganyi Noel - 2013-10-28 06:43

    Pay teachers well so as to attract Students to take Teaching at Universities.I am also a Maths Teacher but will leave teaching soon for greener pastures.

      Sidney Meyer - 2013-10-28 07:36

      Manganyi, And who will teach the kids math? Greener pastures? Bee deals?

      Manganyi Noel - 2013-10-28 08:02

      He Sydney,we work to support our families boss.Zimbabweans will teach your kids cause they are happy with the salary.Not me or most of the SA teachers.

      Motlalepula Matshwe - 2013-10-28 09:15

      I am also on my way out broer it isn't just the pay the conditions that we work under,overcrowding being bullied by parents, learner's and being blamed for everything and brushed with the same brush no matter how much effort you put in. One more maths teacher gone in two months time.

      Tol Smith - 2013-10-28 10:15

      Manganyi and Motlalepula ever considered applying to the private schools? They pay much better and yes you have a family to care for, but with the right offer you can stay in SA

      Manganyi Noel - 2013-10-28 10:50

      That will one best option Tol.Thanks hey.Government Schools are just exploiting us and if all students pass then they give credit to the students and if they fail,a teacher failed them.

      Thandeka Cele - 2013-10-28 16:46

      Manganyi Im also on my way out, we are bullied and exploited......marking 800 scripts per term...!

  • Khotso Sarele - 2013-10-28 06:58


  • Richard Zanner - 2013-10-28 07:27

    But this should not be possible if a set of standards exist whereby a teacher has to achieve a certain level before they can teach that subject. Surely this is plain logic otherwise you can just as well employ school leavers to do brains surgery as they will be cheaper.

      Sidney Meyer - 2013-10-28 07:38

      But Richard the unions won't allow the teachers to be tested. They protect incompetent teachers and doom another generation to incompetence.

  • Tiggy Mabis - 2013-10-28 07:45

    Blatant lies!!!What else would they say?There's no such

  • Rachel Chitehwe - 2013-10-28 07:47

    So if the students scrap a 49% they have passed?

      Rachel Chitehwe - 2013-10-28 09:42

      Wow! As far as other countries are concerned, 49% is graded D and a fail. U will only achieve grade C, B and A passes from 50% upwards. Really South Africa this is not right. No wonder!

  • Michael Konings - 2013-10-28 07:52

    After 20 years one can't blame the past dispensation for the underperforming of some teachers today.

  • Lunetic Mental - 2013-10-28 08:07

    Still apartheid getting blamed!! Its scary to think we, the taxpayers, must actually pay the salaries of these, so-called teachers

  • Stefanie Ash - 2013-10-28 08:25

    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. Really. Let's blame apartheid for this again. Is it perhaps possible that a lack of accountability and responsibility is the main problem amongst not only teachers, but all South Africans...?

  • Emma Sanderson - 2013-10-28 08:44

    This is highly dangerous. If a teacher doesn't understand the subject, how do you expect the pupils to? The teachers colleges should never have been closed. Having said that, maths at primary school level should be well understood by all teachers, it is certainly not rocket science. If not, then really what level of teachers do we really have? High school maths is another matter entirely. We also need enthusiastic and motivated teachers to make a difference.

  • Fredster69 - 2013-10-28 09:15

    Proudly brought to you by the ANC

  • Mfumbayelangabi Silwane - 2013-10-28 09:40

    Please dont lie to us who is teaching them ,then?

  • David Edwards - 2013-10-28 10:19

    What do we expect ? That any teacher has a basic understanding of all subjects. If you are a history teacher you should still know basic maths. If not, just how did you become a teacher in the first place ?

  • Anele Shane Mahlathi - 2013-10-28 10:27

    Eish Sipho Masondo you underming teachers here, then who thought them maths?

  • Edupeg ED - 2013-10-28 10:54

    EduPeg is committed to in-service teacher training, empowering teachers and learners alike in an effort to address issues such as these. It has been and will continue to be a long journey, but a necessary and rewarding one. Many teachers welcome the help and and their growth is reflected in the work of the learners.

  • Callie Jordaan - 2013-10-28 12:18

    not qualified for their jobs or did they strike during training?

  • Luthando Yaso - 2013-10-28 16:48

    This unbelievable

  • Svenson Eriksen Zeleman - 2013-10-28 18:19

    God wat hope do we have with our future leaders ie kids if teachers cant even master the basics....

  • Thomas Maseko - 2013-10-28 23:13

    I do not think teacher training colleges should be reopened it because of them that we have such teachers, teachers should be given the opportunity to go to universitys and do their degrees then the will be specialist in what they do, I'm commenting as a first year teaching student of the University Of Pretoria the knowledge I have now in my specialises subject is way behond the high school knowledge thus I can be able to answer any challeging question that the learners can pose, this is what we need not the teachers colleges

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