The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2017/18 ranks the quality of the country’s primary education 116th out of 137 countries. The quality of the higher education and training system is ranked 114th while the quality of maths and science education is placed in 128th position.
Will South Africa still be in a position to undo the structural damage caused by a dysfunctional education system in ten or 20 years from now?
In the meantime, as South Africans gear up for significant tax hikes to be introduced in the upcoming budget, there is a silent “tax” quietly finding its way into the homes of many South Africans. It is the cost of providing a quality education.
A Bradford primary school wants the world to know its newfound Sats success is down to giving all children up to six hours of music a week. At Feversham, the headteacher, Naveed Idrees, has embedded music, drama and art into every part of the school day, with up to six hours of music a week for every child, and with remarkable results. In maths, the school was 2.4 points behind the national average in 2011 and is now 6.5 above it. Its results for disadvantaged pupils are well above average.
Consistent underperformance in maths and science will not go away, making it a critical public policy matter that needs immediate attention and innovative solutions. It is all the more urgent considering that SA has ambitions to become a developmental state such as Singapore and South Korea, whose economic miracles were founded on technical competence, beginning with an emphasis on maths and science education.
An immediate solution for SA might not be too far off, and it is incredibly simple. It entails granting foreign teachers short-term permits to work in the country. There is plenty of room to learn from top-performing countries — and others.
Every day‚ tens of thousands of school children are being taught by teachers who aren’t qualified to do the job. The result is that pupils are "not receiving the quality of teaching they’re supposed to be getting"‚ the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) admits.
With mathematics and the sciences being the subjects most affected‚ education authorities say the solution to the problem might have to come from beyond SA’s borders.
Promaths is a partnership between Investec and the Kutlwanong Centre for Maths, Science and Technology that provides extra maths and science lessons to learners in grades 10 to 12. This year, the partnership between the two companies celebrates its 12th year together.
Promaths Motherwell produced 25 distinctions in Maths and Science and two students were awarded R15 000 towards their tertiary education as they obtained more than 90% in Maths and more than an 85% overall average.
Investec head of CSI, Setlogane Manchidi, celebrated this year’s winners. “When ordinary people come together in pursuit of broader societal transformation, we can achieve the extraordinary, and tonight’s top achievers are proof of that,” he said.
The South African school maths story is well known: Our school maths performance is very poor. We are second from the bottom of the international league table, and perform worse than some fellow African countries which spend less than we do on education. Despite 22 years of investment our matric maths pass rates are not improving. Yet our Minister of Basic Education asserts that we have a “system that is on the rise”. Is that just spin? What is our school maths story?
The maths and science pass rate for matriculants improved slightly in 2016, but the quality of passes is still in question.
The 51.1% maths pass rate for 2016 was an improvement on the 49.1% achieved in 2015. The science pass rate also improved, from 58.6% in 2015 to 62% — in 2016. In both subjects males had better pass rates than females.
In maths, 89,119 pupils passed compared with the 84,297 who passed in 2015, while 1,699 more pupils passed science in 2016 than in 2015.
Outrage about a proposal to allow students to progress to the next grade with only 20% in maths is hiding a bigger problem in schools: there is a crisis in mathematics teaching and learning across all years. That’s according to education expert Elizabeth Walton, who explains why making pupils repeat a year tends to cause more harm than good. The maths pass rate controversy highlights the woeful failure by past governments to address education standards. Education is a long game, with the benefits only seen as future generations emerge ready – or unprepared – to contribute to the economy. Revelations that most South Africans have little to no ability in maths is worrying for reducing poverty levels and knocking high unemployment rates on the head. Without basic knowledge in maths, it is very hard for individuals to find employment in the formal sector. Dramatic improvements in the development of abilities in maths and other key subjects at school level are necessary to prevent the untapped talents of many in the next generation from going to waste.
In this fascinating piece, specialist in mathematics education Karin Brodie highlights how decolonising mathematics can produce considerable benefits, starting with an improvement in how learners embrace the subject. Ethnomathematics has already begun as educators try to make mathematics more broadly accessible. Brodie’s piece highlights that instead of dismissing calls for the decolonisation of South Africa’s education system, we should be having more nuanced debates about the issue and addressing how to reform teaching and learning so that it works best for the majority of people. That would be good for students and for the businesses hoping to tap into a steady stream of numerate graduates.
Educational systems must adapt to offer the same opportunities to succeed to all. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is a big part of what students need to learn to get a chance at that success.
Teaching mathematics is helpful for many other skills, such as implementing mathematical logic, analytical reading of texts, arguing, validating and correcting an approach, mathematical modeling, organization and data management, project management, personal and collective finance, entrepreneurial development…
Teaching sciences and technology can help with creativity, development of a scientific culture, analytical research, logical suites (observation, questioning, experimentation, argumentation, production, practical achievements, concrete evaluation). It can also have an impact on society, through for example the protection of the environment.
The work we were doing felt arbitrary at the time, learning things not because they made us better people or well equipped, but rather because that’s just what school and the curriculum was. And that can be incredibly discouraging. Pair it with someone’s struggles to understand the concepts and it’s unsurprising that math and science gets the bad rep it does in high school. It’s unsurprising that people can be comfortable with saying “math is hard” and leaving it at that. So, looking back, I wanted to dig into why math and science is a worthwhile study regardless of whether you enter a STEM field.