SA matric results hide 'problems'

2014-01-09 10:02
Matric students gather at Muizenberg High School in Cape Town get their results. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

Matric students gather at Muizenberg High School in Cape Town get their results. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

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2014-01-08 09:23

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Cape Town - Despite the increase in the pass rate for South African matrics, the results hide a disturbing revelation when the subject data is analysed.

The class of 2013 improved on the pass mark from the year before, but there are significant gaps, particularly in knowledge of mathematics and science - key to expanding South Africa's technical capacity and innovation.

The improved pass mark of 78.2% may obfuscate the fact that analytical skills among the school leavers is lacking.

According to the department of basic education's NSC 2013 Diagnostic Report, maths skills in particular are poor despite the pass rate, and this has acute implications for achievement.

"Mathematical skills are a critical skills gap in many subjects, with predictable implications for learner achievement. Many reports in this publication attribute poor performance in such subjects to the poor mathematical skills of the candidates.

"Despite the improved pass rate in Mathematics and in Mathematical Literacy, the lack of foundational competencies in Mathematics remains a challenge across the board," the report says.

Science projects

The quality of the matric pass rate is widely held as a litmus test of the quality of South Africa education, yet few of the class of 2013 have scored a result that qualifies them for study at universities.

The department's NSC 2013 Technical Report shows that "171 755 learners qualify for Bachelor Studies at higher education institutions (30.6%) ".

In terms of subjects that are the drivers of technology like maths and physics, the pass rate increased from 61.3% in 2012 to 67.4% in 2013 for physics and 54% to 59.1% for maths.

The department of science and technology said that the key for South Africa's delivery of giant science projects like the SKA (Square Kilometre Array) was a healthy pool of maths and science school graduates that would continue the subjects at university level.

"The number of matric graduates in mathematics and physical science is important to the department and the science system in general, because it is from this pool that future scientists and researchers will come," Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom told News24.

He added that the low number of graduates could impact of the country's ability to produce high-level skills in the science fields.

"Informed by the understanding that a PhD is a driver of innovation and global competitiveness, the National Development Plan sets a production target of 100 doctoral graduates per million of the population by 2030, which translates to 5 000 PhDs per year from a base of 1 420 in 2010. The view is that more of these PhDs should be acquired in the fields of science, engineering and technology."


The department of basic education's own Diagnostic Report highlighted some of the critical shortcomings in maths education that impacts on the results in physics.

"There was evidence of poor mathematical skills and poor use of calculators contributing to the poor performance of some candidates."

The reports also says that while matric may be regarded as the finalisation of schooling, problems in maths were not only related to the Grade 12 curriculum.

"The algebraic skills of the learners are poor. They struggle with Mathematics in Grades 11 and 12 because they cannot do the basic mathematics of Grades 8, 9 and 10."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    derek hanekom  |  education  |  ska  |  technology
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