Higher grade maths pass rate continues to fall

Robert Laing

Robert Laing

Elitism is the answer to South Africa's maths problem, according to the Centre for Development and Enterprise's (CDE's) new "Doubling for Growth: Addressing the maths and science challenge in South Africa's schools" study.

The quality of South Africa's maths and science education was recently ranked eighth worst out of all economies surveyed in the World Economic Forum's Competitiveness Report.

Only fivepercent of South African matriculants passed higher grade maths, according to the Department of Education's most recent statistics, which are three years old.

The CDE study found this dismal pass rate has since worsened despite government initiatives.

Economic growth is heavily dependent on the numbers of engineers and other numerate professionals a country produces, so the damage to the wealth of our nation from this lousy maths schooling is dire.

The CDE found the small trickle of higher grade maths matrics being produced came from just a few schools.

However, these schools are not getting support from government's R4,5million Dinaledi budget because it is earmarked for historically black schools.

The one in 200 black matriculants who scored a C or better for higher grade maths - the minimum requirement for studying engineering at university - invariably come from the historically white "centres of excellence" schools.

The scarcity of black higher grade maths matrics represents a constraint on BEE, said the CDE.

Rather than upgrade historically black schools, children going to those schools who showed aptitude for maths should be sent to the elite schools, the CDE said.

The report urged government to recruit maths teachers from India. "Levels of enrolment of student and trainee teachers, particularly Africans, are very low," the report said.

The CDE questioned the competence of existing maths teachers. The report quoted a study in Peru, which tested high school teachers. "Almost half of those who sat for the exam were unable to solve elementary maths questions, and a third failed a reading comprehension test."

As in Peru, our education sector is highly unionised. "This has hampered and complicated attempts to introduce accountability into the schooling system especially with regard to teacher performance," the report said.