Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga during the 2013 Ministerial Matric Results announcement at SABC in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. 06/01/2014 Kopano Tlape GCIS

Johannesburg - Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has defended the country’s poor showing in the Annual National Assessment (ANA) results, saying South Africa had to start from a zero percent rating 20 years ago.

She said the country’s performance could not be regarded as a failure because the country was competing with “chopstick” countries that are rich and advanced.

“So if you join a marathon, it doesn’t mean you are the lowest,” Motshekga said on Monday at the ANC’s education sub-committee breakfast meeting with political editors.

Successive international ANA results, including those of the Trends in Maths and Science Studies, have indicated that South African education - although improving - was still lagging behind when compared to other countries.

Last year’s results indicated that only 14 percent of Grade 9 pupils passed maths. Motshekga said at the time the situation required “dramatic” action.

Motshekga said she wanted similar exams to be introduced to grades 7 and 8. Currently, the exams are written by grades 1 to 6 and Grade 9.

She said on Monday South Africa’s participation in the ANA tests was useful as it provided the country with a benchmark to improve its curriculum and teacher-development programmes, among others.

It had helped in reform initiatives, she said, and it was a benchmark for addressing dysfunctional issues, especially in poor and rural communities.

One of the problematic areas facing South Africa, she said, was that teachers did not always complete the curriculum in their respective subjects and grades.

Motshekga said her department would still push ahead with plans to subject matric markers to competency tests, despite resistance by the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu).

“You yourself as a teacher must be competent. They are paid double as teachers and exam markers (and) so it’s a privilege, (but) you must be competent as a marker. It’s not for Sadtu to agree.”

Motshekga added she was aware of the tension between Sadtu and its members in the Eastern Cape, who are demanding the reinstatement of their president, Thobile Ntola.

“The Eastern Cape (Sadtu region) wrote to us to say they don’t want their stop orders (salary deductions) to go to Sadtu. It’s an internal conflict and we can’t intervene.”

The committee said the government had made significant progress in transforming basic and higher education.

“In 1994, black students in universities were 49 percent, now it is 66 percent. So progress has been made there,” said committee member Derek Hanekom.

Deputy Education Minister Mduduzi Manana said a transformation task team would soon introduce a centralised application system for all university admissions.

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