South Africa learners getting better at maths and science‚ but still among worst in world

29 November 2016 - 16:51 By Katharine Child
Image: Gallo Images/ Thinkstock

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) on Tuesday released the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2015 results‚ which compares standardised maths and science test results of SA’s Grade 9 pupils with pupils in 36 countries.

Director-general of the Department of Basic Education Mathanzima Mweli called the results “sweet and sour”.

About 12‚500 Grade 9 learners at almost 300 schools were tested and their results compared to results in South Africa in 2011‚ 2003‚ 1999 and 1995.

The average among Grade 9 learner score is 362‚ an improvement from 332 in 2011 - 400 is seen as an acceptable pass.

In 1996‚ the average score in Grade 9 was 280.

South African scores are at the bottom of the countries tested among Morocco‚ Saudi Arabia‚ and Jordan.

HSRC executive director Dr Vijay Reddy summed up the improvements as “very low to low”.

The average Grade 9 learner score in leading country Singapore was 621 - 259 points higher than South Africa. The Korean average result for the test is 606. In Taiwan it’s 599 and 586 in Japan.

Reddy said: “Critics ask we why can’t get to Singapore levels? Well‚ we can't right now.

“But we can accelerate that change.” While “educational change is slow”‚ Reddy said the improvement meant “the minister can start to breathe”.

Grade 5 learners at almost 300 schools were tested for the first time and the average score was 376.

This results were similar to the average in Morocco at 376 and Kuwait at 354.

The average score for Grade 5s in Spain was 505‚ 488 in France and 618 in Singapore.

The HSRC analysed which students did better in the tests and who did worse to see if inequality and poverty played a role in educational performance.

Amongst the findings:

  • Learners with houses with flush toilets score 56 points higher in maths that those who do not;
  • Learners in households with running water score 54 points higher in maths than those who don’t;
  • Learners who do not experience bullying on a weekly basis score 68 points higher in maths that those who do; and
  • Learners who study in their home language score 60 points higher in maths than those who don’t.

HSRC CEO Craig Soudien said: “This is a predictable story of advantage predicting advantage and disadvantage predicting disadvantage.

“It shows how difficult it is to break these patterns.”

Soudien added: “There are some gains but we are facing obstinate obstacles. We are not seeing the changes needed.”

The Western Cape province overall had the best result with Gauteng just behind it‚ while the North West‚ Limpopo and Eastern Cape were the lowest performing provinces.