The elephant in the room is Grade 9 Mathematics and this calls for “Business Unusual” if we are to take the system out of this quagmire, writes Angie Motshekga
The overall performance in the Annual National Assessment (ANA) 2014 shows an upward trend in performance with average percentage scores increasing by a maximum of 8% in Mathematics in Grade 1 and also increases in all other Grades except Grade 9.The proportion of learners who achieve acceptable levels of performance stand at over 80% in Grade 1 Mathematics.
Overall, the results show that the system is responding to the unrelenting focus on underperformance and inefficiency within the system. For instance 12 out of 81 districts achieved average percentage scores of 50 percent and above in Grade 6 Mathematics. What these districts have done was to use the 2013 ANA diagnostic results to map out improvements plans – and it worked. This shows ANA’s positive utility in no unmistakable terms. This confirms the role of ANA as a diagnostic tool to help the sector to self-correct.
Some among us have opined that ANA is being used as a tool to punish and antagonise teachers. Let me make it clear today that the Department of Basic Education and all its nine Provincial Education Departments place a premium on the value of our teachers. We believe that teachers are the heartbeat of a functioning school system. We cannot expect teachers to promote quality learning and teaching alone. Hence our contention that education is a societal issue. It is within this context that ANA testing will continue into the foreseeable future to assist both teachers and society not only to diagnose the problems but devise sector improvements plans across the system.
Our Achilles' heel as a sector remains the unacceptably low performance in Grade 9 Mathematics. Sadly, we must admit that 2014 marks the annus horribilis for Grade 9 Mathematics. All ANA results and diagnostic reports have flagged the problem of Mathematics teaching and learning throughout the system. This calls for “Business Unusual” if we are to take head on what remains the elephant in the room – learner’s poor grasp of mathematical concepts and teacher’s apparent lack of requisite academic level to teach Grade 9 Mathematics. These are the twin evils that we must confront if we are to take the system out of this quagmire.
What is to be done?
We have resolved in the light of Grade 9 Mathematics dismal performance that an intensive investigation into what factors contribute to low performance in schools offering Grades 7 to 9 (Senior Phase) generally and Grade 9 Mathematics in particular. We will amongst other things conduct an audit of the teaching and learning practice from the sampled schools. This will provide deeper information about these schools particularly on issues pertaining to curriculum coverage and the quality of school-based assessments. We will also strengthen monitoring, firstly by sampling 10 percent of all secondary schools offering Grade 9 Mathematics. This amounts to 874 schools proportionally selected across provinces. Monitoring Teams composed of Department of Basic Education and Provincial Education Departments’ officials will visit and monitor these schools on a quarterly basis. These are just some of the measures we will institute immediately while long-term solutions are being sought. One of the ground-breaking proposals on the table is to send all Grade 9 Mathematics teachers back to school to relearn the basic mathematical concepts and pedagogy thereof. This will require massive financial and logistical support which we currently don’t have.
One of the long-term radical shifts in the offering of Mathematics, Science and Technology is the mooted discontinuation of the Dinaledi and Technical Schools’ Grants. The Dinaledi Schools’ Grant offered schools extra resources to focus on Maths and Physical Sciences. One motivating factor for discontinuation of the aforesaid grant is that the Dinaledi School Grant was not system-wide it only covered 500 hand-picked schools. Secondly, the Dinaledi Schools’ Grant has been funding the Grades 10 – 12 Mathematics and Physical Sciences without offering any support to the Grades 8 and 9 Mathematics and Natural Sciences. Equally the Technical Schools’ Grant also had limited impact as it is only supporting 200 of the 1007 schools offering technical subjects. The proposal on the table that has already been endorsed by the Council of Education Ministers is to consolidate the two grants into a new Maths, Science and Technology Schools Improvement Grant. Negotiations with Treasury to reconfigure these grants are at an advance level. The grand idea is that the new grant will cover all schools. We have also made a determination that all schools must offer some type of Mathematics to their learners. A survey is currently underway to determine the number of schools not offering any Maths at all. By 2015, we want all learners in all schools to be exposed to some type of Mathematics at an early age. Another radical intervention under consideration include an unconventional approach whereby Senior Phase Mathematics teachers and subject advisors will be taught mathematical concepts on Mondays for them teach those concepts for the week during the remaining four days throughout the year. We call upon all sectors of society to work with us as we tackle the issue of poor Mathematics within the system.
Angie Motshekga is a Minister of Basic Education