Policy Papers and Research

Starting behind and staying behind in South Africa: The case of insurmountable learning deficits in mathematics

"This study quantifies a year’s worth of mathematics learning in South Africa (0.3 standard deviations) and uses this measure to develop empirically calibrated learning trajectories. Two main findings are (1) only the top 16% of South African Grade 3 children are performing at an appropriate Grade 3 level. (2) The learning gap between the poorest 60% of students and the wealthiest 20% of students is approximately three Grade-levels in Grade 3, growing to four Grade-levels by Grade 9. The paper concludes by arguing that the later in life we attempt to repair early learning deficits in mathematics, the costlier the remediation becomes."

 

 "Few would argue that the state of mathematics education in South Africa is something other than dire. This belief is widespread among academic researchers and those in civil society, and is also strongly supported by a host of local and international assessments of mathematical achievement extending back to at least 1995 (Howie and Hughes, 1998; Reddy, 2006; Fleisch, 2008; Spaull, 2013a; Taylor et al., 2013). Many of these studies, and particularly those that focus on mathematics, have identified that students acquire learning deficits early on in their schooling careers and that these backlogs are the root cause of underperformance in later years. They argue that any attempts to raise students’ mathematical proficiency must first address these deficits if they are to be successful (Taylor et al., 2003). The present study adds further evidence to this body of work by using nationally representative data to provide some indication of the true size and scope of these learning deficits."

Two main findings:

(1) only the top 16% of South African Grade 3 children are performing at an appropriate Grade 3 level.
(2) The learning gap between the poorest 60% of students and the wealthiest 20% of students is approximately three Grade-levels in Grade 3, growing to four Grade-levels by Grade 9.

Read more in the report from the International Journal of Educational Development International Journal of Educational Development 

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