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Cape Town - Experts agree that a report which named South African maths and science education the worst in the world is not completely accurate but say there is no denying more needs to be done.
A storm of criticism erupted following the release of this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Information Technology Report.
The reported ranked the quality of South Africa’s maths and science education last out of 148 countries.
The Department of Basic Education rejected the report’s findings as “based purely on the opinions or perceptions of selected executives”.
Education analyst Graeme Bloch said he could understand the department’s response as South Africa performed better than a number of other countries.
“I think we are not doing well on maths and science. We must do a lot better. We are probably doing better than some of the countries. We are probably not the worst, but we are pretty bad.”
He pointed to the department’s own annual national assessment results which indicated just 3 percent of Grade 9 pupils achieved more than 50 percent in maths.
“History is partly an issue, but we must not blame history. It is a reality that maths teachers do not fall from the sky. I think that is probably why the department is getting a bit cross. We have made progress but it is not enough.”
Nic Spaull, an education researcher in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University, said the department was correct in saying the rankings were not credible.
He said the rankings were calculated after asking six business people about their perceptions of their country.
“The fact that these six South African businessmen rank education in South Africa so poorly is a reflection of their views. We know from reliable cross-national assessments that South Africa performs better than Mozambique, for example.
“Yet South Africa ranks below Mozambique on the WEF rankings. No one who knows anything about cross-national assessments would trust the perceptions of these six businessmen over the results from rigorous cross-national assessments.”
Spaull said it was known South Africa performed better than countries ranked higher.
“Things in South African education are bad, but not as bad as these WEF rankings make it seem.”
Last year’s Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality ranked South Africa eighth out of 15 for maths, ahead of Malawi, Zambia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Uganda, Namibia and Zanzibar.
DA education spokeswoman Annette Lovemore called for a full skills audit of maths, science and technology teachers by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
“Minister Motshekga’s departmental press release calls the WEF’s finding a false insinuation… However, these business leaders, as major employers, are well-placed to assess the standard of the skills displayed by the young people they employ.”
She pointed to South Africa’s dismal annual national assessment results.
“There is therefore no false insinuation in the WEF report. This is a state of emergency and requires appropriate, urgent action. The DA does not doubt the gains and nor do we imply there is no excellence in our system. There is. But it exists despite minister Motshekga’s department and not because of it.”