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SA battles in schools test

From pre-primary to bullying, negatives weigh against bright futures for pupils

The number of books at home, whether there is a flush toilet, if they are victims of bullying and the kind of pre-school they attend could all contribute to Johnny or Sipho growing up to become a mathematics boffin or a science dud.

The results of the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, released yesterday, suggest the millions being pumped into free childhood development programmes in South Africa are not yielding the expected results.

In this year’s medium-term budget speech, R663-million was allocated over the next three years to increase the programme allowing more young children to access pre-school education.

And it is badly needed, the trends report – released in Pretoria by the Human Sciences Research Council and the Department of Basic Education – showed, as this was an area of considerable concern.

The study compares the outcomes in tests of Grade 5 and Grade 9 pupils.

South Africa scored among the lower end of participating countries, but with a slight improvement from very low to low compared to 2011.

The average Grade 9 maths result in South Africa was 372, while it was 621 in Singapore.

Botswana is also ahead, with a score of 391 for Grade 9 maths.

Meanwhile, the average Grade 5 maths result for South African pupils is 376 compared to 491 in New Zealand.

South Africa had aimed for the average scores to reach 400.

While South Africa’s Grade 9 test scores had improved by between 20 and 26 points for science and mathematics respectively, the country still trailed behind the rest of the countries which had improvements of around 30 points.

Researchers found that having running water at home, the number of books parents owned, and having toilets at home as well as learning in the home language were elements in predicting academic success in maths in Grade 5. Pre-school education was also important.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga agreed that government-sponsored early childhood education centres were still child-minding and not providing enough stimulation.

Motshekga said a presidential report had identified the problem two years ago and that her department was working with the Department of Social Development to improve pre-school education at government-sponsored centres as it was hard for pupils to catch-up later in life.

Planned actions included the development of a curriculum for teaching children up to four.

Human Sciences Research Council executive director Vijay Reddy said the international study had revealed that preschool for poor children was proving less beneficial than had been expected.

“We are not seeing a difference in achievement scores among children at no-fee preschools [compared to those who did not go to pre-school] despite access to this early childhood education.

“The big message from this study is that quality and interaction in pre-school institutions must be improved.”

Reddy said it was not only conditions at home that influenced success in education.

Schools had a responsibility towards children, one of them being that they should be safe places as bullying was likely to lead to much lower scores.