Johannesburg - Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has admitted that public schools will never match private schools because they are less privileged and are too overcrowded.
Motshekga made the admission on Monday, moments after she released the latest annual national assessment results in Tembisa, Ekurhuleni.
The assessment – a testing programme requiring all schools to conduct the same, grade-specific language and maths tests – is meant to diagnose whatever problems schools are experiencing in order to determine intervention strategies.
The latest results affirmed independent schools’ dominance as the institutions of choice, with pupils in these private institutions achieving better than their public-school counterparts.
“Bearing in mind that they are privileged, you cannot compare bananas to apples [or] a Rolls-Royce with a Toyota,” Motshekga said in an interview with The Star.
Motshekga became the second education minister to decry the poor state of public schooling.
Last month, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande admitted that the test results of pupils in grades 3 and 6 remain some of the worst in the world, despite the continually increasing levels of spending on foundation phase education.
“A majority of learners entering the intermediate phase remain largely illiterate and experience increasing levels of difficulty as they progress through the system,” Nzimande said while presenting his draft skills development plan in Pretoria.
He also expressed disquiet at the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and Progress in the International Reading Literacy Study international assessments over the past decade, which “painted a dismal picture of literacy and numeracy in our schools”.
In September, about 7.2 million pupils from grades 1 to 6 from across more than 20 000 schools sat for the assessment tests.
And for the first time this year, children in Grade 9 were also tested.
While the results show an improvement in performance in literacy and numeracy, they show a disturbing trend of a downward spiral in performance in both languages and maths as the children progress in their studies.
In literacy (languages), the overall national average score among the Grade 3s was 52 percent. This is a 17 percent improvement on last year’s score of 35 percent.
Among the Grade 6s, the national average mark for languages was 36 percent, compared to 28 percent last year. The Grade 9s scored 35 percent.
In maths, the average national score of Grade 3s was 41 percent. This is a significant improvement on last year’s 28 percent. However, there was a drop in the maths scores of Grade 6s, down from 30 percent to 27 percent.
The Grade 9s scored a paltry 13 percent on average.
“It’s [the 13 percent] a worry. It’s really a symptom of a problem that has been festering for a very long time. So what we really have to do is to pay more attention to that grade as much as [we do with] the lower grades.
“These results explain to a very large extent why, among many other reasons, we have such high failure and dropout rates at grades 10 and 11,” Motshekga said.
The results affirmed Western Cape pupils as the best in languages and maths.
The trend in the drop in performance through the grades paints a gloomy picture on Motshekga’s target of a 60 percent mark by 2014.
Motshekga said the drop in performance highlighted why many children dropped out of school or failed to attain a university entrance mark.
“Education is a journey. If our foundation classes are not strong, you won’t achieve. If fundamentals are not in place, chances are that the next lap gets difficult.
“You have to get the fundamentals right and use that as the building blocks.”
Motshekga identified teacher training as among the key areas that the department needed to focus on if it hoped to improve performance.
Professor Sarah Gravett, dean of education at the University of Johannesburg, agrees.
“If you want to change results, the grounding in the very early years has to be very good. At the moment, the foundation is not good,” she said.
“Many of our teachers are not properly trained and do not understand how to work with young children and to develop their reading and numeracy skills.”
Another problem, Gravett said, was that children found it difficult switching from their home language to English.