Just 53.8% of the 233315 matrics who wrote maths in 2020 passed it. Picture Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).
Just 53.8% of the 233315 matrics who wrote maths in 2020 passed it. Picture Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

Half of all matriculants who write maths fail it each year

By Bongani Nkosi Time of article published Feb 24, 2021

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Johannesburg - Year in and and year out, nearly half of the country’s matrics who write the maths examination fail the critical subject. The 2020 matric year was no different.

Just 53.8% of the 233 315 matrics who wrote maths passed the subject. A total of 125 526 of the 2020 matrics managed to score the 30% and above pass mark.

The maths pass rate has come close to reaching the 60% mark just once in the past five years. That was in 2018, when 58% of its 233 858 candidates passed.

Just 54.6% of the 2019 class obtained maths passes. The years 2016 and 2017 struggled even more, as the maths pass rates were 51.1% and 51.9% respectively.

Maths had the lowest outputs of the subjects classified as gateway subjects. These are subjects considered critical to the economy and development.

Accounting had a 75.5% pass rate in 2020, down from 78.4% the previous year. Agricultural science was passed by 72.7% of its candidates, economics by 68.8% and history by 92.1%.

Though the physical science pass rate dropped to 65.8% in 2020 – from the 75.5% of 2019 – it still had a better output than maths.

“There is a general decline in the number of candidates performing at 30% and above in maths nationally over the past three years,” lamented the Department of Basic Education in its 2020 examination report.

But – as president of the Association for Mathematics Education of SA Rajendran Govender told The Star on Tuesday – the maths pass rate has hovered at just over 50% “consistently for a number of years”.

Govender said specific interventions were needed to improve the maths output. He said the interventions should focus on teaching.

Learners needed to gain expertise to successfully tackle the complex problems they find in the final exam. “The pass rate can only improve if our teaching strategies are aligned to promote mathematical thinking,” said Govender.

“We need to re-look at the way we engage with maths teaching in our classrooms.”

But the supply of maths teachers in some schools was poor, Govender pointed out.

“I think we really need to address teacher supply to schools, particularly in less privileged areas.”

The schools needed not just maths teachers, but a “supply of teachers competent to teach maths”.

“If we look at the schools that are producing good results, they have teachers who have the necessary knowledge to teach maths,” said Govender.

“In schools where the results are not necessarily good, there’s a correlation in terms of teacher ability. One needs to focus on that.”

Mugwena Maluleke, general secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, called for research to look into the poor maths performance.

“It’s not only that we’re not achieving, we’re also under-enrolling in mathematics. We need research to find out why,” Maluleke told The Star.

The research should uncover the weakness from earlier grades, he said.

A former maths teacher, Maluleke said pupils with poor numeracy skills were bound to struggle with maths.

In its exams report, the department listed the “significant decline in the pass rate for mathematics and physical sciences” as part of “areas which warrant greater attention”.

The Star

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