The recently released TIMSS and PIRLS reports that provide an international comparative assessment of mathematics and reading data indicate that South Africa must improve teacher quality and effective teaching time to compete internationally.
The TIMSS report, which assesses mathematics, found that South Africa placed third last of the 63 countries and 14 participating benchmark countries.
Although South Africa's scores have improved in public schools and lower end learner scores have improved (indicating investment in low resources schools have been beneficial) the report revealed that internationally we continue to perform at the lowest end in this core area.
Further concerning findings include the following:
• The best performing SA learners approached only the average performance of the top performing countries such as Chinese Taipei, Japan, Finland and Slovenia;
• SA scores are substantially below international averages for similar circumstances; and
• SA performance at the top level is not globally competitive with the top-end performers, independent, former house of assembly and quintile five schools, all performing below the middle score of 500.
These findings are all the more damning with the report indicating that an average of 182 hours per year is spent on maths instruction, significantly above the 138 hours international average. Clearly the hours are not translating into mastery of maths. This highlights the shortage of competent maths teachers, as suggested with only 60% of teachers in SA having university degrees - compared to 87% internationally.
The PIRLS report, which assesses reading literacy, placed South Africa fourth last of the 49 countries and 9 benchmark countries.
A problematic finding is that SA scores are substantially below international averages for similar levels of disadvantage.
This cannot be surprising when 46% of South African teachers do not have a degree when compared with 21% internationally and an average of 131 hours per year are spent focussing on reading as opposed to an average of 216 hours per year internationally.
Last month I wrote to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, Hope Malgas, to request that the Basic Education Portfolio Committee (i) prioritises a discussion on different models and interventions to address the quality of maths, science and literacy in South Africa, (ii) call for representations by education experts on how maths and science education can be improved, (iii) call for input from successful schools in maths and science to provide their best practice methods, and (iv) make recommendations to the Department of Basic Education on an alternative model for teaching these critical subjects.
I will write to the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, to study the report and ascertain which interventions contributed to the rise in results in lower income schools and best practice methods from successful schools. I will also request that she prioritises teacher quality support and effective teaching time.
Our learners must be empowered to compete on an equal footing in the global knowledge economy.
Annette Lovemore, Shadow Minister of Basic Education