Maths performance 'pitiful'

Farzana Rasool
By Farzana Rasool, ITWeb IT in Government Editor.
Johannesburg, 05 Jan 2012

The decline in the number of matriculants that passed mathematics last year could see SA slip further behind the rest of the world competitively when it comes to technological innovation.

This is according to president of the Computer Society of SA Adrian Schofield. He says the lack of or slow improvement in education overall, and in maths and science especially, is “pitiful”.

“The message is the same one we've been repeating for the last few years. The decline means we are denying ourselves the opportunity to have a pool of usable skills going further into the 21st Century.

“We can't kid ourselves. We need to have skills to innovate in the technology field, or we will keep slipping behind the rest of the world competitively.”

Schofield says it's going to take the combined efforts of government and the industry to make serious inroads into the problem.

Going up

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga yesterday announced the national matric results for 2011.

She acknowledged that, in past years, the pass rate has been cause for concern. In 2008, it was 62.5%; in 2009, it had dropped to 60.6%; and in 2010, it rose to 67.8%.

The minister was pleased with 2011's pass rate of 70.2%, representing an increase of 2.4 percentage points on the 2010 results.

This means 348 117 learners out of a total of 496 090 have passed. In 2010, 537 543 learners wrote the matric examinations.

Maths dip

However, the number of learners passing mathematics has declined once more.

Motshekga said the department remains concerned about the number of passes in mathematics, which is less than the 124 749 of 2010.

“The pass rate for mathematics is 46.3% in 2011, a decline from 47.4% in 2010.”

A total of 104 033 learners passed mathematics, while 96 441 learners passed physical science, according to the minister.

“Given the importance of physical science and mathematics, we have set ambitious targets for them. We are therefore pleased with improved performance in physical science.”

The pass rate for physical science in 2011 is 53.4%, as compared to 47.8% in 2010.

The number of passes in mathematical literacy also dropped from 241 576 in 2010 to 236 548 in 2011.

However, Motshekga said: “The 2011 matric results mark a decisive shift from the trend of years past. We have arrested the decline by registering a significant improvement across the system.”

ICT concern

Last year's mathematics pass rate also saw a decline from 133 505 in 2009 to 124 749. The number of students who passed physical science improved to 98 260 from 81 356 in 2009. Both subjects are key building blocks for entry into the ICT sector.

Andile Tlhoa'ele, CEO of Inforcomm, previously explained that successful professionals in the ICT sector typically have studied mathematics and science at an academic level.

Mathematics and science are a core building block for success in the ICT sector, because of the heavy reliance on logic in applications within the industry.

Solidarity deputy general secretary Dirk Hermann previously said the declining number of learners passing mathematics is a great cause of concern for the future of the ICT sector and the economy, as a whole.

Hermann explained that the IT sector will be SA's future growth driver, but the impending skills crisis will lead to growth problems in ICT, and in the economy. In addition, he noted, the lack of skills will cause salaries to rise, which has the potential to drive up inflation.

Partner plan

“We have a strategy in place which we will vigorously implement in 2012 to improve the pass rate and the quality of mathematics and physical science - the National Strategy for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education,” said the minister.

Motshekga said the focus will be on improving the participation and performance of girl learners; helping schools to improve learners' subject choices; ensuring correct placement of teachers; and focusing teacher development efforts on subject and pedagogical content knowledge.

“A vital part of our strategy is working with partners, including those in the private sector, higher education institutions and NGOs.

“These partners are numerous, but I want to mention the Shuttleworth Foundation which has developed maths and science textbooks for Grades 10, 11 and 12, free of charge.”

More distinctions

Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister of basic education Wilmot James says this is the first time since 2004 that the national pass rate has broken the 70% barrier.

However, he says to sustain and improve on this success there are several aspects government needs to focus on.

These include increasing the number of learners who pass with distinctions in all subjects, including mathematics and science.

James also says increasing the number of learners who pass science and mathematics needs to be achieved.

“This year, the pass rate for physical science improved from 47.8% to 53.4%, a positive development. Unfortunately, the maths pass rate declined from 47.4% last year to 45.3%. More effort has to be made to ensure this figure improves.”

Right step

The African National Congress (ANC) says it welcomes the 2.4% improvement in the pass rate.

“The increase in matric pass rate in the last few important as it demonstrates that our government's approach to education is bearing the desired fruit,” says the ruling party.

The ANC Youth League is also pleased with the overall pass rate but agrees with Schofield in saying it is the responsibility of all stakeholders in society and caring South Africans to contribute to the construction of a skilled, knowledgeable and expertise-driven society and economy.

President Jacob Zuma also hailed the ascending pass rate as a step in the right direction.

Matriculants could access their individual results from yesterday via the Department of Education Web site, which suffered technical difficulties due to the heavy traffic, but is now up again, according to spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi.