Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

The Department of Basic Education has continued to spin SA’s dismal results in an international study, which placed the country right at the bottom for science and second last for maths, saying the results showed that SA had greatly improved.

The Trends in International Maths and Science Study (Timss), published by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, was the just the latest to raise questions on the quality of SA’s education system.

The Timss study is conducted every four years and the 2015 results were released late in 2016, which included 59 countries.

The results placed South African grade 5 and grade 9 pupils second-last in maths. Grade 9s were at the bottom of the class in science, trailing other African countries such as Botswana and Morocco. Grade 5s did not participate in the science tests.

The tests cover grade 4 and grade 8 pupils in most countries, but in SA they are done by pupils in grades 9 and 5 instead.

Grade 9 science pupils scored 358, compared to 332 in 2011, while maths pupils scored 372 compared to 352 in 2011.

These scores were below the Timss "low" benchmark score of 400, raising questions about pupils’ grasp of basic concepts such as graphs and whole numbers.

Top-of-the-log Singapore grade 8 students scored 621 in maths, and 597 in science.

About 12,500 South African pupils and 330 maths and science teachers from 292 schools participated in the study, according to the Human Sciences Research Council.

Department of Basic Education officials on Tuesday briefed MPs on the Timss report and insisted that the country was improving.

They said with appropriate national and provincial strategic interventions, a target must be set for an improvement of 35 points, to reach average score of 400, and for 45% of pupils to score above 400 points in Timss 2019.

The Timss study result will also inform classroom practice and help raise standards in maths and science, the Department said.

MPs also heard that achievement continues to remain highly unequal across schools. Pupils’ home and school environments differ, contributing to intergenerational inequality.

"Good quality pre-school settings should offer a boost for learners. Learners in independent and fee-paying schools benefit the most but learners in no-fee schools do not seem to benefit."

MPs also heard that only 42% of top-up textbooks had been delivered to the Eastern Cape. The books were meant to replace damaged or lost reading material and to ensure that any new pupils had the required texts.

DA MP and deputy basic education spokesperson Nomsa Marchesi said the party would write to the South African Human Rights Commission, to request an investigation into the failure by the Department of Education in the Eastern Cape "to uphold and respect the constitutional rights of young South Africans".

"That one-and-a-half months into the school year more than 50% of textbooks haven’t been delivered is simply unacceptable. The ANC-led government has already failed an entire generation of young people who have given up hope of ever finding work and the opportunities they deserve, because they were never given access to quality basic education," said Marchesi.

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