School literacy and numeracy shock

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KwaZulu-Natal - The annual national assessments are 13 days away. And although the test-run scores for pupils in KwaZulu-Natal show a marked improvement against last year’s results, the prospects of 60 percent of pupils mastering literacy and numeracy basics by 2014 have been described as “bleak”.

The KZN Education Department conducted a “test pilot” in June to gauge how prepared pupils were to write the real thing later this month.

Twenty-five pupils from grades 3 and 6, in 5 percent of primary schools in the province, took part in the exercise.

A report leaked to The Mercury revealed that Grade 3 pupils achieved an average of about 45.5 percent for literacy and 44.8 percent for numeracy, whereas the Grade 6 pupils managed 36.4 percent for language and 31.5 percent for maths.

The figures were corroborated by those presented to the provincial legislature’s portfolio committee on education last month.

Last year, the Grade 3 performance totalled 31 percent for numeracy and 39 percent for literacy, whereas the Grade 6 pupils scored 29 percent for languages and 32 percent for maths.

NM Labby Ramrathan Labby Ramrathan INLSA

Last year’s national average – the score of 6 million pupils – was 35 percent for literacy and 28 percent for numeracy among Grade 3 pupils.

Grade 6 pupils scored 28 percent in languages, and 30 percent in maths.

KZN was ranked in the top three provinces.

Labby Ramrathan, associate professor at the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said on Wednesday that the spike in the KZN results was owing to the heightened consciousness around the assessment, and the “settling down” of a schooling system which was “growing towards efficiency”.

Although the report on the pilot results states that the pupils’ performance “paints a bleak picture for reaching the target of 60 percent pass percentage in 2014”, KZN department head Nkosinathi Sishi was having none of it.

“I don’t wake up in the morning to aim that 40 percent of children fail,” Sishi said.

Asked how the department had managed to improve on last year’s results, Sishi explained that reading had been “institutionalised” in schools, and that when he or MEC Senzo Mchunu visited classrooms they demanded to see evidence of writing skills, counting and critical thinking.

The report’s pilot results show that the Umlazi district produced the best performance in Grade 3 literacy (63 percent), Grade 3 numeracy (70 percent) and Grade 6 languages (49 percent).

Grade 6 pupils in the Umzinyathi district (Dundee and Greytown) had the highest maths average (43 percent).

Conversely, Umzinyathi fared the poorest in Grade 3 literacy (34 percent).

Uthukela (Ladysmith) produced the lowest scores in Grade 3 numeracy (28 percent), Grade 6 languages (26 percent) and Grade 6 maths (25 percent).

Of the Grade 3 pupils, 71 percent could not answer comprehension questions correctly, and 79 percent responded incorrectly when asked to fix the punctuation in a sentence.

Seventy-five percent of this group were unable to calculate what half of 11 was.

Ninety-two percent of the Grade 6 sample could not change a specific sentence into the passive voice. - The Mercury

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