Maths and science isn’t exactly South African pupils’ strong point. The country has been ranked second last out of 48 countries for Grade 4 mathematics, second last for Grade 8 mathematics and last for Grade 8 science out of 38 countries.
This is according to the 2015 Trends in International Maths and Science Study, which was released yesterday.
But focusing on certain critical sectors – such as early childhood development and teacher training and development – could result in a turnaround.
The Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has also come under fire for saying that her department was “pleased with the consistent improvements we have seen in the results”.
“Firstly, let us acknowledge that South African scores in mathematics and science are low but improving. The study shows that South Africa has made the biggest improvement of any education system in the world since we have been participating in the study,” Motshekga said.
South Africa has been participating in the study since 1995.
The minister has however received criticism from Democratic Alliance MP Gavin Davis, who said that “despite the sobering picture presented by the study, Minister Motshekga is popping the champagne corks.”
“Minister Motshekga went on to say ‘we are proud to be a leading African participant among 59 countries participating in the various 2015 tests’. But the fact is that South Africa came last out of all African countries, behind Botswana, Egypt and Morocco,” Davis said.
Davis called on Motshekga to improve the educational system by focusing on teacher training and development particularly among schools that perform badly.
“Too many teachers are emerging from our universities without the necessary practical skills to deliver the curriculum effectively,” Davis said.
He criticised the role of the South African Democratic Teachers Union and said that teachers who were late for school or absent were “not held to account”.
“It is no coincidence that the three lowest performing provinces – North West, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape – are three of the provinces found by the ministerial ‘jobs for cash’ report to have been captured by the South African Democratic Teachers Union,” Davis said.
General secretary of Equal Education, Tshepo Motsepe, said that in order to improve the educational results of children, early childhood development needs to be made a priority. “Government must, must, must put the effort and resources toward drastically improving the quality of early childhood development for children whose parents or guardians cannot afford to have them enrolled in high-fee centres. High-quality early development for all children is crucial,” Motsepe said.
Factors that contribute to children not being able to learn efficiently include the lack of reading in the early years of childhood development and lack of basic resources.
“According to crucial recent research from Stellenbosch University, one in five early childhood development centres is battling an inadequate drinking-water supply, one in four has an inadequate electricity supply and a quarter don’t have adequate toilet facilities,” Motsepe told City Press.