Policy Papers and Research

Mathematics outcomes in South African schools: What are the facts? What should be done?

“South Africa is significantly underperforming in education, particularly mathematics teaching and learning. Mathematics teaching is often poor quality, with teachers not able to answer questions in the curriculum they are teaching, one indicator of the challenge. Often national testing is misleading as it does not show the major gap at lower grade levels. Of the full complement of pupils who start school, only 50 per cent will make it to Grade 12 and only 12 per cent will qualify for university entrance. Fundamental reforms are needed in the public sector. Business leaders need to incorporate an understanding of private education and other market experiments and schooling innovations in their overall perspective and priorities for intervention and reform.“



International studies often show that South Africa has the worst educational outcomes of all middleincome countries that participate in cross-national assessments of educational achievement, especially in mathematics. We also do worse than many low-income African countries.

In data collected in 2007, the majority of Grade 6 teachers in South Africa cannot answer a question that their learners ought to be able to answer based on the Grade 6 curriculum. In one example, ‘only 23 per cent of South African Grade 6 mathematics teachers could answer [such a Grade 6] question – with the proportion answering correctly ranging from 13 per cent for quintile one teachers to 46 per cent for quintile five teachers’.8 Obviously it is almost impossible to teach that which you do not know. The accumulated learning deficits seem to reach a decisive point after Grade 9, when there are high drop-out rates from South African schools

CDE has developed four points that must be borne in mind in addressing South Africa’s numeracy and mathematics schooling challenge.

  1. Improving mathematics teaching and learning in public schools will not happen fast, but must begin in earnest as a matter of urgency
  2. Poor mathematics and numeracy in public schools is likely to accelerate private schooling growth and enrolment in private extra mathematics lessons;
  3. If South Africa is to be realistic about having a knowledge economy and creating more and better jobs, it will require a sustained focus on teacher and teacher-training enhancement, particularly in mathematics teaching, which – given its scale and current attitudes – will likely take a decade or more to achieve significant results;
  4. In the interim, it is likely that we will have growing numbers of innumerate young people, and a majority of young South Africans could be unqualified for many types of white collar work (assuming less than 30 per cent in mathematics in Grade 9 roughly translates into such a status).

Read more in this report produced by the Centre for Development and Enterprise: https://www.cde.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/MATHEMATICS%20OUTCOMES%20IN%20SOUTH%20AFRICAN%20SCHOOLS.pdf


Tags: Maths and Science Research and reports