Tag Archives: mathematics

SA school pupils out-perform their teachers in basic mathematics

Economic researcher Nicholas Spaull from the University of Stellenbosch
Economic researcher Nicholas Spaull from the University of Stellenbosch


As matric students commence their final exams, a new research study by Nicholas Spaull from the University of Stellenbosch, indicates that Grade 6 pupils are out-performing their teachers in basic mathematics.

The vast majority of matric students accomplish a mark of between 40% – 49% in mathematics and in 2008 the average mark for maths was 45%. If we consider the outcomes of Spaull’s recent study as an indication of the state of the South African education system and teacher skills, we not only have a crisis in the country but instead a national disaster of epic proportions.

How can we expect the local South African economy to grow and create more jobs for the unemployed or create a breeding ground for entrepreneurs to start businesses, if school pupils are barely competent to solve basic mathematics problem while their teachers, who are meant to guide these learners, are not capable of teaching their pupils.

The research study centered on Grade 6 teachers from disadvantaged schools throughout the country. The results of the study revealed that teachers are not capable of solving basic mathematics problems presented to them. Conclusions may also be inferred that primary school teachers are in all probability no better.

Probably the most disconcerting outcome of the study showed that the top performing Grade 6 pupils easily out-performed some Grade 6 teachers. The very best Grade 6 pupils (5%) had the ability to achieve higher marks on the same mathematics tests that the bottom 20% of Grade 6 mathematics teachers wrote. If this does not result in any red flags and/or warning signs regarding the state of South Africa’s education system, then what is going to jolt our leaders and government to wake up and admit that the country’s education system is in a shambles and crisis.

The study undertaken by Spaull was compiled by conducting a desktop study of the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality 111 report (Sacmeq) which had been performed in 2007. As part of this study, Grade 6 pupils and teachers from South Africa and 12 other African countries were required to write precisely the same mathematics tests. Even though questions were not identical, the difficulty level was the same for all those tested.

Spaull’s is quoted as saying that, “There is a case to be made that teachers who lack an elementary understanding of the subjects they teach can actually do harm to their pupils.”

When will the South African government as well as those given the responsibly of educating and training our youth accept the reality that when teachers do not possess the ability and skills to understand the content that they are teaching then there is a problem, and that the problem ought to be dealt with immediately.

“Teachers who lack a sufficient conceptual understanding of their subject are more likely to employ inappropriate concrete techniques when teaching and use methods that undermine the long-term learning trajectories of pupils,”said Spaull.

The results of the study highlighted the following facts:

  •  No more than 32% of Grade 6 mathematics teachers in South Africa hold the required skills and knowledge of mathematics content knowledge. The average for 14 African countries is 42%
  •  South African teachers were only capable of answering 46% of the questions correctly presented to them
  •  60% of the Grade 6 mathematics teachers from the poorest South African schools have statistically considerably less mathematics content knowledge compared to the average Grade 6 teachers in Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda.

Spaull concluded from his research and recommended that government reintroduce the controversial teacher competency test which was emphatically apposed by the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu).

As increasing numbers of studies are performed and research undertaken in the country, there is growing factual evidence and data highlighting the undeniable fact that a large proportion of teachers in the country lack the basic required content knowledge in the subject that they teach. This is because of the inadequate teacher training and ineffectiveness of in-service teacher training initiatives.

“In light of this, and following the premise that teachers cannot teach what they do not know, it is a logical imperative that a system of identifying which teachers need what help is urgently required, ” said Spaull.

Sadtu is totally against any competency testing of teachers and that teachers testing is not an option. Mugwena Maluleke, Sadtu general secretary, has stated that the union is totally against any teacher competency tests and that the union does not want them. They would prefer that teachers be provided with further training to further improve their skills and competency.

Well, if this is the case, how can you expect to offer further training and skills development programs to teachers when you have no knowledge or information of the skills that these teachers are lacking. Maluleke does concede to fact that some teachers do not have the ability to do maths however, not because they are stupid, rather for the reason that there are no specialized teachers. “We take people who did history or geography and ask them to teach maths. What do you expect?”

Maluleke has highly recommended that the government and the Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga should make it a top priority to open teacher training colleges to provide teachers the necessary training opportunities to specialize in certain subjects and attain the basic skills necessary to teach those subject. Motshekga has stated publicly that her department is aware of the issue and this has resulted in the introduction of the Annual National Assessments.

The question that Motshekga really should answer, is how many assessments do we need to undertake before the government realizes the crisis in the South African education system, and additionally assume responsibility for the problems within the education system. Everyone might point a finger at Motshekga considering that she hold the position of Basic Education Minister, but the current failure of our education system is the responsibility of the entire South African government.

Like many others in the country, I do not believe that there will be any changes in the near future until such time that individuals are held accountable for their actions and that government and leaders assume responsibility for the crisis in the education system. The only people who will and are suffering, through no fault of their own, are our school pupils whose future success looks bleak.

Source: citypress, fundza.co.za (image)


Denel helps students to boost their maths and science


High school pupils are receiving assistance to enhance their mathematics and science grades from South African arms manufacturer, Denel, by way of a specialised training programme.

The programme began in 2008 and assists close to 80 students annually. Mike Ngidi, Denel’s human resources and transformation group executive, explained that Denel is adding to the enhancement in the quality of maths and science teaching by way of an outreach programmes and extra tuition provided to students in disadvantaged areas.

A team of 44 engineers employed in the aerospace and defence industry take time out of their weekend to assist and share their know-how about these vital subjects with pupils in grades 8 to 11 at Steve Tshwete Secondary School in Olievenhoutbosch.

As a result of their education programmes, Denel is creating new study and career opportunities to deserving students – particularly in the engineering professions.


Continuity of school syllabus

There are clearly remarkable improvements in science and maths results ever since the Denel Training Academy selected Steve Tshwete Secondary School as its project school.

The school’s principal, Takalani Ndou, pointed out the fact that they have recorded five maths and science distinctions in the two years since the project began. This is an accomplishment never attained before in the school’s short history.

The programme operates along with the school’s teachers to make sure that there exists a continuation with what the pupils are performing in the school syllabus.

Venashree McPherson, the people development manager at Denel Dynamics, explained how the company’s goal is to promote engineering as a career option for school leavers as a result of their tutoring programme together with the provision of bursaries to deserving students.



The pupils are given study guides, stationery and bags when they attent classes.

One of the students who completed the programme, Kgaugelo Mokholwane, was given a bursary from Denel Dynamics in 2011 to carry on with his studies at tertiary level, whilst another student won a national maths quiz run through the social network, MXit.

McPherson explained that the programme would undoubtedly carry on growing, with the anticipation of far better results in the long run.

Ngidi added: “As a result of our participation in education projects at high school level, we have high hopes to inspire a whole new generation of future engineers, technicians and artisans who will certainly make it possible for South Africa to help maintain its high-tech leadership position.”


Maths and science development strategy in Gauteng

This is not the only solution currently being undertaken to improve the standard of critical skills. The Gauteng Department of Education has layed out numerous goals and objectives to boost the quality of mathematics, science and technology (MST) education within the province.

These have been outlined in the MST Improvement Strategy Paper of 2009-2014, which states: “Quality in mathematics, science and technology education is an ever-increasing requirement for the development of skills needed in modern economies. As the center of the South African economy, Gauteng is required to make certain that school leavers moving into higher education and industry are sufficiently prepared in these subjects.”

Goals and objectives include: strengthening MST teaching to all of the Gauteng schools, which is focused on continually developing teachers’ instruction skills; increasing the provision of MST resources, which consists of the satisfactory distribution of MST textbooks along with other learning and teaching support materials to schools; offering programmes to support learners in MST, which comprises a variety of campaigns to enhance learner achievement by way of in-class and supplementary programmes; and additionally, boosting the management of MST teaching and learning, guaranteeing there is a positive and conducive environment for MST education in schools and districts.


Dinaledi Schools Project

Maths and science have been made a top priority subjects over a decade ago by the education department. The Dinaledi Schools Project was started in 2001 by the department to boost the volume of matriculants with university-entrance mathematics and science passes.

The strategy consists of selecting high schools for Dinaledi status to boost learner participation and performance in mathematics and science, and additionally provide them with the appropriate resources and support.

Dinaledi means “stars” in Setswana. The Department of Basic Education earmarked R70-million (US$9.1-million) for the Dinaledi schools programme in 2011/12; this is expected to reach R105.5-million ($13.7-million) in 2013/14.

Source: mediaclubsouthafrica.com


SA to boost science centres

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor has committed to increase the number of science centres in the country in an attempt to assist the youth “reach their full potential in the learning environment.”

Pandor opened and addressed the 6th Science Centre World Congress in Cape Town.

“We believe that science centres are among the most efficient methods accessible to assist our youth attain their full potential in an informal learning environment. There is no doubt that a network of science centres would most likely unleash the potential of millions of young African people, and promote science awareness on a continent that is swiftly adopting the digital age.


Science and Technology Minister, Naledi Pandor


“We also value the purpose that science centres perform in teacher empowerment and in training mathematics, science and technology teachers relating to the ideal way to bring their subjects to life in the classroom. Science centres can in addition play a significant role in encouraging the youth to follow careers in science and technology, and to know which career path would be most suitable,” the minister said.

She stated the centres would be perfect for the development of “effective” outreach programmes, targeted at peri-urban and rural areas where they could offer “valuable services.”

At present, the country had 26 science centres in eight provinces and the plan was to increase the this figure.



She said that there were five key areas of public investment in sciences in South Africa which includes investment opportunities in space science and technology, biotechnology, building indigenous knowledge and technology connected with global warming.

The Science and Technology Department had created the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) to put into practice the policies of the department, and to undertake science awareness programmes of their own.

She pointed out that SA was willing to share with other African governments and non-profit organisations “the experience that we have gained in putting together and implementing policies that promote science-centre development in our region.”



The well-attended conference is being held under the theme “Science Across Cultures” and is scheduled to run for the next four days at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, the summit will have many exhibitions and is bound to be propelled by robust debate and discussions.

Source: BuaNews


Annual National Assessment highlights need for intervention

The Annual National Assessment (ANA) results were unveiled by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga in Pretoria.

The assessment incorporates numeracy and literacy tests undertaken by six million so-called foundation phase (Grades 1 to 3) and intermediate phase (Grades 4 to 6) pupils enrolled in government schools.


Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga


The assessments were held in February subsequent to pupils having completed their previous year’s grade work. The ANA results indicated that nationally, Grade 3 learners performed at an average of 35 percent in Literacy and 28 percent in Numeracy, while the provincial performance stands between 19 percent and 43 percent, with the highest being the Western Cape.

In Grade 6, the national average performance in Languages is 28 percent, while Mathematics performance is 30 percent, and the provincial percent within the two areas ranges between 20 percent and 41 percent, with the highest being the Western Cape and lowest being Mpumalanga.

The assessments, established by the department, intends to produce a benchmark for all schools in the basic education sector. The assessments are among the essential strategies which have been implemented by the department to further improve learners’ achievement by 2014.


It is designed to provide regular, well-timed, valid and credible data on learner achievement within the education system. As opposed to examinations that are designed to inform decisions on learner promotion and progression, ANA data is intended to be utilized for both diagnostic purposes at individual learner level and decision making purposes at a systemic level.

The report on the ANA will be able to make it possible for the department to evaluate the influence of specific programmes and interventions to boost literacy and numeracy.

Motshekga stated that the department was not shocked by the performance, given the inferior performance of South African learners in recent international and local assessments.
She, having said that, pointed out the fact that the country has its own benchmarks against which they are able to set targets and move forward.



“We have formerly commenced putting in place interventions in line with the problems we have discovered and verified as a result of ANA assessments. Even though there is certainly no quick solution, we are optimistic that our interventions will bear fruit in the years to come, this is especially true considering the fact that we are at this time in a position to measure their impact,” Motshekga said.

She accepted that there appears to have been an under-emphasis on the growth and development of basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy at the foundation levels and additionally stressed the necessity to place a lot more focus on them.

The department’s interventions include things like the distribution of 15 000 foundation phase learning packs to be used by teachers from Grade R to 3. These consist of the development of lesson plans and assessment frameworks.

The department in addition has completed the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) to be phased into the foundation phase in 2012.


“We anticipate that there will be far more emphasis on teaching and assessment, but this has to be reinforced with guided teacher development and suitable readers and workbooks,” the minister mentioned.

In readiness for the CAPS, Motshekga explained the department has performed a feasibility exercise in order to avoid past errors.

“We have trained subject advisors and provinces are moving forward with with the training of teachers. Our classes will in addition be completely resourced to guarantee successful implementation,” Motshekga explained.

Teachers’ unions have likewise expressed no surprise at the results, highlighting the necessity for intervention.


“All of us are certainly not amazed at all but commending the minister for her boldness to release them … we really need to formulate strong interventions in schools,” said President of National Professional Teacher’s Organisation of South Africa, Esrah Ramasehla.

Deputy President of the Professional Educators Union, Malose Kutumela, also stated that the outcomes were expected for the reason that thebassessments were carried out after recognising that the country has not been performing well.

“It’s the first assessments and the outcome was expected. When we talk of the quality learning campaign, we pointed out there was an issue until all stakeholders took part,” Kutumelo said, noting the value for all stakeholders to play a part to ensure that the country is able to compete on an international standard.

The national results on a sample of learners who were in Grade 9 in 2010 is scheduled to be released in July.

Source: BuaNews


Educated Africans educate South African children

Educated African refugees are assisting a large number of children in Cape Town’s underprivileged towns and cities to master science and mathematics, as a result of an educational initiative referred to as Leap.

Every weekend approximately 800 students ranging from Grades 10 to 12 go to the southern suburb of Pinelands for tutoring in these subject areas. On weekday afternoons, tutors visit Leap Learning Centres within the townships to work alongside as much as 840 Grade 8 and 9 children from 12 educational institutions in Cape Town’s disadvantaged suburbs.

Each of these centres are actually an outreach project managed and operated by the Leap Science and Maths School, the purpose is to completely transform educationally disadvantaged local communities. You can find 58 tutors carrying out work at the centres, 10% of whom happen to be South African. The others are a diversified combination coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

The project along with Leap School were set up at the same time in 2004.

In the beginning tutors signed up with the program on an unpaid voluntary basis. In a matter of a couple of months Leap founder John Gilmour ended up being overcome as a result of the tutors’ commitment and competency, and consequently decided to source suitable investment. The tutors at this moment take home a minimal daily stipend of R110 (US$16).

For the reason that mathematics and science in many cases are regarded as challenging, pupils frequently select less difficult subject areas in order to avoid jeopardising their matric exemptions. Unfortunately without having these particular subjects, pupils’ options available for tertiary study tend to be significantly restricted.

Pupils participating in the Saturday morning program are generally thankful for the supplemental help and support.

“They teach you a lot better than our regular teachers. If you do not fully understand, they try to find out from you just what you are having difficulties with,” said Asemahle Mlanga, a 17-year-old pupil coming from the close by seaside resort town of Strand.


Phaphama Maoblo, also in Grade 11, remarked, “My test results have actually improved very well. There’s no doubt that they are a great benefit to South African children.”

“I think it is intriguing that there exists this many students who happen to be desperate when it comes to a quality education, and will definitely invest their own personal financial resources and time to come here on Saturday,” said Mark Medema, president of Washington DC-based NGO EdVillage, as he observed a Saturday class. “I really don’t believe this occurs in the US.”


Amazing advantages for everyone

South Africa’s public education system is hindered due to the absence or unavailability of qualified and competent teachers, making the contribution of these educated people from other countries incredibly beneficial.

The tutoring program has not simply helped pupils but has additionally been crucial in assisting refugees to be able to integrate into South Africa.

Sammy Ntumba, head of the Leap Learning Centre Project, left the DRC in 2003 to come to South Africa. He got here accompanied by a degree in chemical engineering and metallurgy, unfortunately his qualification was not accepted in this country.

Ntumba commenced postgraduate studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT), but found it necessary to discover a way of sustaining himself, in addition to financing his studies. His very first job had been handing out advertising flyers at a traffic light. Shortly after, he found employment as a night security guard within an affluent Cape Town suburb. It had been tedious and exhausting work and he ended up becoming more and more disheartened and discouraged as a result of the absence of stimulation.

In 2004, he noticed an advert at UCT for volunteer tutors in township learning centres. Seven years later, the programme has taken his personal life in a completely new direction. He has had the opportunity to bring his wife and son to reside with him in South Africa, and has made a decision to carry on with a profession in social development, as opposed to engineering.

According to Ntumba, “We are unquestionably educated. It is especially essential to transfer that to others. If I don’t do it, I will die with that knowledge. It is not costing us gold and silver, it costs nothing, rather it is actually an important thing that we are carrying out.”

Ntumba’s account echos that of a large number of his fellow workers at Leap. Most have had the opportunity to abandon their security jobs, complete their studies and commence earning a living with South African companies, and in some cases, educational institutions.



Dr Zelo Mangombo, also from the DRC, arrived in South Africa in 2000 having a degree in education, along with honours in chemistry. Last year he managed to obtain his doctorate in chemistry at the University of the Western Cape.

Despite having his new qualifications and skills, Mangombo keeps on working and teaching at Leap. “Since I have been here I have observed superb improvements,” he said. “Typically the children are receptive and ready to learn. They happen to be committed to their work.”


Quality education for disadvantaged pupils

When Leap training first became available and opened its doors in 2004, it accepted 72 Grade 11 and 12 pupils. It presently has four campuses, two in the Western Cape in Langa and Gugulethu, and two in Gauteng in Alexandra and Diepsloot. Each campus has 170 pupils, of whom 69% are girls.

Last year South Africa attained a national matric pass rate of 67.8%. Of those pupils, 23.5% received a university entrance. The national pass rate for science was 48%, and 47% for mathematics.

Leap is without a doubt rendering a considerable contribution to quality education in South Africa. In 2003 merely 55 African language-speaking Western Cape pupils obtained university entrance levels in mathematics and science. This past year, Leap’s 107 Grade 12 pupils accomplished a 98% overall pass rate. Every one of these children wrote mathematics and science, attaining a 98% and 90% pass rate in these subjects respectively. Six pupils received distinctions in mathematics, and also for the very first time, three distinctions were obtained for science.

Three quarters of Leap’s graduates at the moment are pursuing tertiary studies.

Additionally there is a teacher training module for students currently taking their teaching degrees via correspondence. The five-year programme is designed to provide Leap teachers the main benefit of a comprehensive understanding of their particular selected subjects, and improved communication skills to enable them to more effectively interact with their pupils.

Source: mediaclubsouthafrica.com,