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KwaZulu-Natal - For the first time since 1995, South Africa’s Grade 9 pupils have a better grasp of maths and science, but they are still falling far behind their peers in other countries, an international study has revealed.
The country was among the very lowest-performing of the 45 countries which participated in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss), with only 24 percent of Grade 9 pupils featuring at the lowest end of the performance scale.
This was despite the fact that 42 of the countries had their Grade 8 pupils sit the maths assessment.
The progress in international reading and literacy study, presented by academics from the University of Pretoria on Tuesday, found that 43 percent of Grade 5 pupils in South Africa could not read at the required level.
KZN landed among the bottom three performing provinces for both maths and science.
The Timss findings, presented by the Human Sciences Research Council comes in the wake of the release of the government’s Annual National Assessment results.
After 7.2 million pupils from grades 1 to 9 across the country sat for the tests, it emerged that the Grade 9 national maths average was 13 percent (12 percent for KZN).
For the Timss 2011 survey, a sample of 12 000 Grade 9 pupils from 256 public and 27 independent SA schools took part.
Achievement was divided at four points on a scale ranging from zero to 1 000 points: advanced international benchmark (625), high (550), intermediate (475), and low (400).
Twenty-two countries had an average score below 500 points.
One percent of Grade 9 pupils in South Africa managed to reach the advanced benchmark. The South African average for Grade 9 science climbed 64 points.
Nicholas Spaull, an economist from the University of Stellenbosch, said: “I was pleasantly surprised by the large improvement in the [maths] results for our Grade 9 students… [But] the results are still unacceptably low. Thankfully SA is no longer last of all the participating countries… [However] 76 percent of SA Grade 9 pupils cannot do basic computations or match tables to bar graphs or read a simple line graph.
“They have not acquired basic knowledge about whole numbers, decimals, operations or basic graphs – and this after nine years of formal full-time schooling,” Spaull said.
South Africa’s national average score remained static during 1995, 1999 and 2002.
Human Sciences Research Council executive director Vijay Reddy noted that the greatest improvement in the country was among the most disadvantaged pupils – at which the government and the private sector targeted interventions.
“I’m a little unhappy about the performance of the former Model C and independent schools and disappointed that KZN was third from last. … Change in education is slow; we can’t expect an increase of more than 40 points (per cycle). Yes, we are still low-performing, but our kids show potential,” Reddy said. -The Mercury