Six out of 10 pupils in South Africa lack basic math and science knowledge - international study

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Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
  • Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) surveyed pupils from 64 countries in maths and science every four years.
  • In South Africa, the survey looked at Grade 5 and 9 pupils.
  • Four in 10 South African pupils demonstrated basic mathematical and scientific knowledge in 2019.

Only four out of 10 pupils in South Africa demonstrated basic math and science knowledge in 2019, according to the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

Presenting the results of the TIMSS on Tuesday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga noted that this was an improvement from one in 10 pupils in 2003. 

"The mathematics and science ability levels increased from 11% of learners demonstrating that they had acquired basic math and science knowledge in 2003, to 41% of mathematics learners and 36% of science learners demonstrating this ability in 2019," said Motshekga.

From 2003 to 2019, South Africa improved by 104 points for mathematics and 102 points for science.

TIMSS, released every four years, surveyed pupils in 64 countries. In South Africa, 519 schools and 20 829 pupils participated. The survey focused on Grade 5 and 9 pupils.

TIMSS was the only study that measured changes in education quality over time and was important as it gave the education department an international comparative analysis of the math and science levels in the country.

OPINION | South Africa’s race towards the UN’s goal on quality education

"Most importantly, the TIMSS Study and others help us to develop evidence-based remedial policies and strategies. The TIMSS Survey also shows us what works and what doesn't, here at home and across forty-six countries around the world," said Motshekga.

SA received an average scale score of 374 for Grade 5 math and 324 for science, while Grade 9s scored 389 in math and 370 in science. 

She said that while the country had recorded significant progress, it was still far behind its peers and competitors.

"Interestingly, the highest achievement increases are from the lowest performers. This means that the lowest-achieving provinces have improved the most over the long-term period."

Motshekga said it was too early to "pop the proverbial champagne".

"Researchers confirm that home conditions continue to be unequal, and some homes are still not conducive to learning activities. They say learners from homes lacking the basic amenities, such as running tap water and flush toilets, have the lowest educational outcomes," she said.

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