The calibre of applications for support from Thuthuka Bursary Fund and the manner in which they are being assessed represent a microcosm of the education standards of South Africans striving to enter tertiary institutions.
So says Thuthuka Bursary Fund Manager, Nthato Selebi, who reveals that Thuthuka Bursary Fund applications in excess of 1700 had been received this year.
Thuthuka is an initiative of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA); one that aims to nurture, from start to finish, aspiring Chartered Accountants from previously disadvantaged communities.
Selebi says of the 1700 applications, the majority were from Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, with Limpopo not far behind.
After an initial screening process, 959 students wrote a screening test. Encouragingly, says Selebi, most met the criteria.
"However, the challenge of selecting the cream of the crop was compounded by the teachers' strike. Because we could not get their Grade 12 first term results, we resorted to our own test mechanisms to determine who most warranted bursary funding.
"Our approach comprised three segments - English, high school mathematics and cognitive mathematics."
Selebi explains that cognitive mathematics tests ability as opposed to specific knowledge of mathematics. Thus: "The learner might not have had a good maths teacher at school, with the result that his/her maths marks might have suffered accordingly. Cognitive maths ability reflects a more realistic indication of one's true maths ability."
Of the trimmed-down 959, Thuthuka short-listed those who received 35 points and above - 35 being the test benchmark for determining who is seen to be university material. A total of 384 received 35 points or above in all three aspects of the testing.
In English, Thuthuka tested vocabulary, the use of metaphors, ability to extrapolate, sentence construction, interrelationships, visual and numerical literacy, and the calibre of spoken English.
"Basically, we are testing the use of English mechanics - an approach that reflects a macro snapshot of a student's ability, thereby highlighting areas of weakness," says Selebi.
When it came to high school mathematics, Thuthuka tested grades 9, 10 and 11 algebra, arithmetic volume, percentage ratios, and geometric manipulations.
In cognitive mathematics ability, it tested basic mathematics, translating information, comprehension analysis and synthesis - topics that are not specific to any particular curriculum or syllabus.
"Cognitive mathematics was found to be the greatest challenge for learners, primarily because of a weak mathematics background."
Selebi says maths is critical for those wishing to become Chatered Accountants.