Mathematics and science outcomes in South Africa are improving, but more work needs to be done to meet the economy’s needs. The overall numbers of mathematics and physical sciences passes are actually higher than ever before.
The actual number of learners enrolling for mathematics at Grade 12 shows an upward trend.
The Department of Basic Education is working to address the problems that existed when the new system was introduced in 2008. The Department has strengthened guidance around subject choices by taking steps to improve assessment practices in schools. The introduction of the Annual National Assessments, for example, provides schools with high quality assessments that are set at the levels prescribed in the curriculum thus helping teachers to identify areas for remedial attention and encouraging well-informed subject choices prior to grade 12.
Here is the background:
In 2008, the new National Senior Certificate was introduced, in which mathematics and maths literacy replaced the old “higher grade” and “standard grade” subjects.
Whereas mathematics was not compulsory under the previous system, under the new system all candidates must take either mathematics or maths literacy.
In the first year of the new system, it was understandably difficult for schools to settle on how many learners should enter mathematics and how many should enter maths literacy, as these subjects were not intended to correspond to the old “higher grade” and “standard grade”. Consequently, large numbers of very weak candidates participated in mathematics in 2008. More than 296 000 candidates took mathematics in 2008 where 136 503 candidates passed.
Since 2008, schools have adjusted to the new system and are now facilitating better subject choices. In 2013, we saw 142 666 learners pass mathematics this was more than ever before and substantially fewer candidates (98 843) did not pass compared to 2008.
Over and above the difficulties in adjusting to the new National Senior Certificate, unreliable and lenient school-based assessment practices were also contributing to poorly informed subject choices.
Having said all this, the department recognises the need to further improve mathematics and science outputs, especially to increase the number of high-level passes. This is of great strategic importance both for economic growth and in order to empower individuals with globally competitive skills.
Crucially, the way to further improving the country’s mathematics and science outcomes is not by merely encouraging more learners to participate in these subjects in matric. It must be achieved through fundamental improvements in the quality of learning and teaching in the earlier grades.
The recent Task Team that was appointed by the Minister of Basic Education to investigate challenges that hamper performance in Mathematics, Science and Technology (MST) revealed that “MST educator capacity has been found to be wanting at all levels” and made the following recommendations:
In this regard, it is recommended that the DBE:
· Plans and implements a rigorous national MST teacher development programme. The programmes should focus on improving mastery of MST curriculum content and instructional management. The programme should make use of appropriate and effective training interventions and techniques.
· Moves to improve subject advisory services by strengthening district capacity, resources and training. Coaching and mentoring should be made effective by: focussing more on subject support than on administration and prioritising classroom based support, coaching and mentoring. (Ministerial Task Team Draft Report, 2013)
Teacher Training and development
Our education system relies on the quality of teachers we have. As a sector we want every classroom to have a qualified and competent teacher standing in front of learners teaching for the required number of hours, daily.
To achieve this we have completed a nationwide teacher profiling which has provided us with useful and accurate information regarding the skills base of our workforce.
This information will eliminate challenges wherein Provincial Education Departments’ (PEDs) could not deploy teachers correctly, resulting in qualified teachers teaching subjects that they are not qualified to teach; vacancies remaining vacant for long periods of time and forecasting of the type of teachers that need to be trained being inaccurate. In this regard we now have a greater policy certainty around teacher deployment and placement. Henceforth personnel planning for schools are under review, to ensure that learner-teacher ratios are maintained at appropriate levels.
In addition to this the Department is currently implementing the 1+4 Model aimed at improving the quality of teachers in all our schools. The ‘1+4 Model’ is based on and supports the concept of the Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) which the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Motshekga, launched in 2014.
The strengthening of foundational numeracy and literacy, especially the timely acquisition of good reading skills which facilitate learning in all other subjects, is at the top of our agenda.
This objective of improved quality in the school system is central to all government planning around education. It is evident in the National Development Plan, forms the basis of the Minister’s delivery agreement with the President, and it is foregrounded in the Department of Basic Education’s Action Plan: Towards the Realisation of Schooling 2025.
Enquires and interviews: Elijah Mhlanga – 083 580 8275
Troy Martens – 079 899 3070
Issued by the Department of Basic Education