Maths, science crucial for SA's development

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The shortage of mathematics and science learners and educators in the country is once again under the spotlight.

The Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) today presented a research report on the impact of this problem, aiming to double passes in higher grade as well as increase teachers in this sector in the next five years.

According to the research report, failure to improve the status of mathematics and science in South Africa will be a major obstacle to the development of the whole continent.

Executive Director of CDE Ann Bernstein said everyone needed to acknowledge that if current trends continued the country would be faced with a national crisis.

"Maths and science education is the foundation of tertiary entry, job opportunities and the economy and maths is increasingly becoming a critical component of getting ahead," she said.

Ms Bernstein added that although projects and government's policies on improving the maths and science field were in place, their impact on delivery was minimal therefore holding back the country's economy.

According to the report, while the total number of passes in mathematics over the 12-year period had grown from 64 941 to 128 119, the growth has only been in standard grade (SG), from 39 028 to 99 426.

"Higher grade (HG) passes have only increased from 20 667 to 23 412 (13.22 percent)," said the report, adding that in fact, in 2003 the system produced only 2 735 more HG maths passes than it did in 1991.

There were also a fewer African candidates matriculating with higher-grade mathematics.

In 2002, only 4 637 African learners graduated in HG maths, amounting to 13.14 percent of all matric graduates and 23.42 percent of all HG maths graduates.

Similarly, while the total number of passes in physical science has increased from 84 019 to 151 791, SG passes have increased from 22 216 to 61 756 and HG passes from 23 109 to 26 067.

While observing that there had been some improvements over the past three years, the report said this could be attributed to the introduction of the 25 percent "continuous assessment" component of matric, undertaken by schools themselves and not by independent examiners.

"This reality undermines the country's ambitions for expanded economic growth, Black Economic Empowerment and community development," said Ms Bernstein.

Following their findings, the CDE has made recommendations to achieve quality education and outcomes in science mathematics.

They include partnerships between government and the private sector, increasing qualified teachers in the maths and science field, building on the potential of schools and reviewing current educational policies.

Another proposal was the introduction of the "no child left behind" project where all Grade 9 learners would write an aptitude test.

Successful learners or those who showed potential would be eligible for financial support to attend schools with a good delivery in maths and science.

Ms Bernstein said although Education Minister Naledi Pandor welcomed the research and recommendations, everything could not be changed or achieved at once.

The research report entitled From laggard to world class: reforming maths and science education in South Africa's schools involved three years of analysis, case studies, workshops and discussions with experts, learners and educators.

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