How to make your child a maths boffin

29 November 2016 - 18:03 By Katharine Child

What can turn a pupil into a maths boffin?

Research shows there is hope for those who think they can't do mathematics.
Research shows there is hope for those who think they can't do mathematics.

Books at home‚ no bullying‚ a flush toilet‚ learning in a home language and being a girl were correlated with success or better maths and science scores.


The Human Science Research Council presented results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2015 on Tuesday and asked what makes some pupils do better that others?

The international study compares standardised maths and science test results of Grade 9 and Grade 5 pupils with 56 other countries.

The HSRC analysed South African data from the almost 11‚000 Grade 5 pupils and almost 12‚000 Grade 9 pupils who did the tests then tried to understand who was likely to get lower points or fewer points. The average score for Grade five in maths was 376 compared with A Singapore average score of 618. A top score is 625 or over and only 1.5% of learners earned this. A pass is considered 400.

The average score for Grade nines was 372 in maths.

What makes pupils do better?

  • On average pupils who scored 68 points more for mathematics and 97 points for science were learners who didn’t report bullying. Yet‚ one in five learners reported bullying on a weekly basis in the study. The Western Cape learners reported the lowest exposure to bullying.
  • Learners who had their own textbooks scored 24 points higher for maths and 31 points for science. But despite this in KwaZulu Natal only 42% of learners reported having a science textbook.
  • Having more books at home was positively related to higher performance. This is an indicator of the education level of the home. But only 20% of pupils reported having more than 25 books at home. Pupils with flush toilets at home also had higher scores.
  • Being a girl means tests scores will be higher. Boys from poorest homes did the worst and were considered "vulnerable"‚ according to the report.
  • Pupils who learned in their home language on average got 60 more points for maths and 84 more points for science in the tests. But only one third of pupils spoke their school language at home.
  • Absence from school was seen as big indicator of whether pupils would do badly. But a stunning 37% of Grade 5 pupils were absent once or twice per two weeks.
  • Younger pupils did better with much older pupils likely to get the lowest scores- raising questions about how often learners should repeat a grade according to Humans Sciences Research Council Executive Director Vijay Reddy
  • Students who did better at maths and science tests attended Pre schools‚ which were paid for. The advantage started long before primary school according to Reddy.

TMG Digital/The Times