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Report raises concerns as final year education students scored 54% on primary school maths test

The 2030 Reading Panel report called for an audit of university programs training primary school teachers after final year education students scored 54% on a primary school mathematics test.

Mathematics sums on a chalk board. File Picture

Published Feb 3, 2022

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DURBAN - A report by the 2030 Reading Panel released on Tuesday found that final year Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) students scored 54% on a primary school mathematics test.

The inaugural 2030 Reading Panel is chaired by former South African deputy president Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and consists of 18 panellists.

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While the focus of the panel is to ensure that all children read for meaning by age 10 by 2030, the report said in primary school, teachers are required to be able to teach both languages and mathematics.

In the Foundation Phase, it is the same teacher who teaches all subjects, it said.

The report found that more recent research looking at initial teacher education for mathematics is especially concerning.

In 2018, Lynn Bowie, Hamsa Venkat and Mike Askew tested a sample of 488 B.Ed students and 282 final year B.Ed students from three universities.

According to the report, the test was aimed to assess primary school mathematics knowledge and included 43 questions drawn from the Grade 1-7 curriculum.

The research study, which was published in 2019, found that most B.Ed students lacked a proper understanding of even primary school mathematics, and there was not much growth in mathematics knowledge over the four years of the B.Ed programme.

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“The average score for first-year B.Ed’s was only 52% despite it being a primary school mathematics test and, even more worrying, the average score for final-year B.Ed students on the same test was virtually the same, 54%, after four years of full-time study,” it said.

The panel called for an audit of university programmes training primary school teachers.

Other findings of the report include:

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  • SA 10-year-olds in 2021 know less than SA 9-year-olds before the pandemic: Due to rotational timetables and school closures in 2020 and 2021, children in South Africa have lost 1.3 years of learning. New assessments show that children in Grade 4 in 2021 knew less than children in Grade 3 in 2018.
  • Half of teachers (45%) will retire in the next 10 years – this is ‘unprecedented’, and currently, there is no plan to address this wave of retirements. The report showed that due to the ageing of public school teachers, there is a bulge of teachers about to reach retirement age (60). It will require universities to increase teacher production from 26,000 in 2018 to 44,000 by 2025 to 50,000 by 2030.
  • Before the pandemic, South Africa’s education system was improving slowly but steadily. The report showed that for children who were enrolled in Grade 1 from 1994 onwards, their reading and mathematics outcomes were consistently improving, although levels were still low.
  • On SA’s current trajectory, it will take 80 years before all 10-year-olds can read for meaning. Although President Ramaphosa committed his administration to ensure that by 2030 all 10-year-olds will read for meaning, on current projections, only 36% will be able to read for meaning by 2030 (currently, only 22% of 10-year-olds can read for meaning in any language).
  • Current reading plans are “slogans” because they lack funding: The report showed that most of the DBE’s current plans for reading were primarily slogans (“Read to Lead”, “Drop All and Read”, President’s Virtual Reading Circle), and there was currently “negligible” budget allocated to reading.

The four recommendations from the background report were:

  • Establishing a universal external Grade 2 assessment of reading.
  • Moving from slogans to budgets. It was estimated that government would need to spend R1.3-billion per year to provide high-quality reading materials and support to teachers.
  • Providing a standard minimum set of reading resources to all Foundation Phase classrooms (Grade R-3) as a matter of urgency.
  • A university audit of pre-service teacher education programmes.

Mlambo-Ngcuka called on each panellist and each of the 100 delegates to take responsibility for finding a solution to the different areas that have been identified for improvement.

“Although schooling is primarily the responsibility of government, we all have a role to play here. Business, civil society, we all need to come together to tackle this issue,” she said.

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