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Poor teaching, particularly in primary schools, was one of the most significant hurdles to maths education, according to research released by the Centre for Development and Enterprise on Thursday.
The independent think tank produced a report on the state of maths education in public schools, arguing that the quality of teaching being given was among the worst in the world.
The document was based on research commissioned from two academics, one of whom was Stellenbosch University’s Nic Spaull, who has proposed the introduction of minimum competency tests for all primary school maths teachers.
The study showed that South Africa’s Grade 6 maths teachers were at the bottom of the competency spectrum when compared with their peers in eight countries, including Tanzania and Uganda.
Teacher competency and complacency was a “major problem” and, if allowed to persist, was likely to accelerate the rate at which pupils were enrolled in private schools, and private extra maths lessons.
The consequence of South Africa’s “significantly underperforming” education system was that only half of all pupils who started school together made it to Grade 12 and, of those, only 12 percent qualified for university.
It also cites the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which showed that the average South African Grade 9 was two years behind the average Grade 8 from 21 other middle income countries in maths.
Improving the teaching of mathematics and science was critical for the country’s development as a knowledge economy, and to prevent more people from swelling the ranks of the unemployed.
Spaull said that a possible solution to the problem of teacher competency was a nationwide system of minimum proficiency testing for primary school maths teachers.
They would need to score at least 90 percent in the Annual National Assessments for the grade they taught, and 70 percent in Grade 9 assessments.
While Spaull said that such testing would be confidential, and not to punish teachers, the National Teachers’ Union did not take kindly to the proposal.
Union deputy head Allen Thompson said that it “rubbished” the good efforts of teachers and that research should instead be done on how to improve the teaching environment
Basil Manuel, the president of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, said that while there was a problem with competency, a barrage of tests was not the silver bullet, and would be met with resistance.