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THE SOUTH AFRICAN CONTEXT

POOR PERFORMANCE IN MATHS & SCIENCE

South Africa is in the unenviable position of being at or near the bottom of international assessments that monitor trends in Mathematics and Physical Sciences.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) has been used in South Africa since 1995, to monitor trends in maths and science achievement. Although South Africa's results have shown a significant improvement, the country still sits way below the TIMSS centre point of 500, with an average mathematics achievement of 370 in the 2019 study. Any score under 400 is considered very low, and equates to learners who have not grasped even basic mathematical knowledge.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the problem further. A recent study by Stellenbosch University compared test results in Mathematics and reading at public schools in the Western Cape between 2019 and 2021. The study found that for Mathematics, learners  in 2021 had fallen more than a year of learning behind learners in the same grade in 2019. 

 

In 2022, although 725 000 full-time learners sat the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams, only 269 000 wrote Mathematics and 209 000 wrote Physical Sciences.  And only 12,5% of learners writing Mathematics (and 16,7% writing Physical Sciences) passed at the minimum level to be accepted into a STEM-related field at a tertiary institution. Furthermore, the percentage of learners taking these subjects has been steadily decreasing. 

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A LACK OF SKILLS FOR THE NEW WORLD OF WORK

Two of the objectives in the Department of Basic Education's 2022/23 development plan are to better prepare learners for further studies and the world of work, and to ensure that those leaving the schooling system are more prepared to contribute towards a prosperous and equitable South Africa. Specific mention is made of the requirement for digital skills, and implementing subjects such as Coding and Robotics.  However, success in these subjects will require the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that come with a good foundation in maths and science.

 

To meet the demands for the future skills South Africa needs, more learners need to be taking Mathematics and Physical Sciences at school, and they need to be getting good enough marks to study further. 

AN UNEMPLOYMENT CRISIS AMONG THE YOUTH

South Africa has an unemployment crisis, with an official unemployment rate of 34,5%. For young people aged between 15 - 24, the picture is particularly bleak, with 37% - around 3,8 million people - in this age group not in employment, education or training.

 

The unemployment rate for graduates in South Africa is significantly lower, at 12,9%, pointing to the direct impact good education has for employment prospects in South Africa. 

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