Cape Town - Only 14.3 percent of last year’s Grade 9 pupils passed a provincial test assessing their maths skills.
However, the results, announced by Education MEC Donald Grant on Tuesday, showed an improvement in performance compared to the previous two years, with a 13. 9 percent pass rate obtained in 2012 and 10.9 percent in 2011. Pupils had to achieve 50 percent to pass.
The World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report 2013 ranked the quality of South Africa’s maths and science education second-to-last in the world, ahead of Yemen.
Grant said the tests showed grade 3 and 6 maths results had also improved, but language results were a concern.
“Language is the key to unlocking all the other subjects,” he said, adding there was no quick fix to improving the quality of education.
The results showed:
Grant said the improvement in maths results was a “critical gain” for the system and suggested that strategies in the foundation phase (grades 1 to 3), such as providing maths textbooks in grades 1 and 2, had yielded positive results.
He said the decrease in Grade 6 language results was disappointing.
“The important thing is to know where we need to provide support. Schools have already received their results and in the coming weeks our schools will be visited by district staff for a joint analysis of their results with the senior managers of these schools.”
The Western Cape Education Department introduced a Grade 9 turnaround strategy last year.
The strategy included after-school programmes; autumn and winter programmes for language, maths and science; group tutoring by curriculum planners; and setting quarterly targets for pupils and subjects.
Yoliswa Dwane, chairwoman of advocacy group Equal Education, said that while the improvements were positive, the education system was failing most pupils. She said the results showed many schools were underperforming and concrete interventions were needed.
“The level of performance is shocking. It seems we still have a long way to go.”
She said a report released by the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit last year showed that many teachers lacked subject knowledge. This had to be improved.
“You can’t do that with lip service,” Dwane said.
Education specialist Graeme Bloch said the decline in literacy results was “especially concerning”.
“We should be concerned and the Western Cape should acknowledge the slowness of improvements, which we are beginning to see.”
Professor Cyril Julie, who holds the FirstRand Chair in maths at UWC, said the test was not a “high stakes” exam for Grade 9 pupils.
“It doesn’t carry any direct consequences for them. They don’t have to pass it to go to the next grade.”
He said things tended to improve with “curriculum stability”.