The performance of the education system in South Africa has been under severe criticism in recent times and the results in this article stress the need for an immediate drastic change if the country is to ever overcome this challenge. It would be recalled that the World Economic Forum in its recent Global Information Technology Report for 2014, ranked South Africa among the countries with the worst maths education in the world. The report polled the quality of math programs for 148 countries, and South Africa made a disappointing 146th position behind other countries like Haiti and also below other African countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Lesotho, Chad and Zimbabwe as only Yemen – at 147th position – and Libya – at 148th – fared worse.
Some have argued that the ranking criteria used by the World Economic Forum was fundamentally faulted since there were no standardised tests involving students which was conducted to determine the quality of mathematics across the various countries surveyed. There has also been the debate on the reliability of the ranking which one could assume is a by-product of an annual “Executive Opinion Survey” which was conducted by the WEF drawing on interviews with various “business leaders” from different sectors where such leaders were asked to assess the quality of maths and science education, rating it from poor to excellent and the results were then weighed in with the total rating, however, the inescapable truth remains that the current state of South Africa’s education system is deeply concerning as suggested by the latest reports across various levels of study.
Putting aside the assumption that the WEF ranking criteria is fundamentally faulted, locally, South Africa has its Annual National Assessment reports which was first published in 2011. It measures the ability of over 7.3 million pupils from grades one up to grade nine. The results capture levels of understanding in critical areas such as numeracy and literacy. This serves as a tool to help areas of education correct themselves and are often considered the premier way to measure the health of a basic education system. According to the recently released data, the following results were calculated for mathematics –
Grade One – 68.4%
Grade Two – 61.8%
Grade Three – 55.4%
Grade Four – 37.3%
Grade Five – 37.3%
Grade Six – 43%
Grade Nine – 10.8%
The average performance of ninth grade students dropped to 10.8% after enjoying a slight increase in 2013 from 2012 levels. There is no question as to whether this result is saddening most especially when only 3% of ninth grade students achieved a score of 50% or higher last year.
A recent survey revealed that deficiencies exist in every academic level such as out of date national strategy, a shortage of qualified teachers, and negative curriculum which has been introduced over the last 10 years. Furthermore, teachers were not being trained properly and there was little or no support being offered to teachers.
Whether the WEF ranking reflect the ability of South African students or not, it is apparent and would be agreed upon that educational problems do exist within South Africa and these results can only add to that criticism hence there is a clear demonstration of the need for alternative intervention methods within the current education system.
it is imperative that an investigation which should involve a baseline study to determine the root cause of such difficulties students experience be properly pursued though it has been proposed that schools offering ninth grade maths would be subject to adequate monitoring and investigation; a step which is believed would positively transform the poor current state of education in the country.
It would be recalled that previous educational interventions had been attempted however, the National Professional Teachers’ Organization of South Africa have highlighted that such interventions are not working and it would be best if the department steps away from politics and bureaucratic actions and instead focuses on teacher content and methodology. This includes ensuring that department school leaders are adequately equipped to train teachers because quality education is important to create and prepare young adults so that they can be competitive within the global market and not only in South Africa.