Matric matters – but primary school matters more

Pam has R40; she spends R28. How much money does she have left? To be fair, in a world where everyone has a calculator on their phone, we are all getting lazy when it comes to basic arithmetic, but you are probably able to answer that question – unlike 76% of Grade 5 learners in South Africa.  Only 14% could subtract 7 from 105, to cite another shocking example.  Of the 1,2 million eager learners that enrolled in Grade 1 in 2002, less than half matriculated in 2013. In a recent article on The Daily Maverick, ReSEP member Professor Servaas van der Berg explains that:

“education is a critical determinant of success in the job market. And the failure of the school system is central to the failure to increase employment and reduce inequality. The problem is that many fall out along the route, and those who do make it, scrape through. It might have a lot to do with what goes on before high school.”

Van der Berg has done extensive research on this pressing issue for a range of stakeholders, including ReSEP, the Carnegie Commission into Strategies to Overcome Poverty and Inequality and REDI, the Research Project on Employment, Income Distribution and Inclusive Growth.

His research shows that more than three quarters of Grade 3 teachers were not confident that most of their students could correctly answer a simple multiplication problem like 2×4. Based on two global education studies (TIMMS and PIRLS), the South African education outcomes are dismal. South Africa is second-last in a measurement of Grade 8 maths ability in 45 middle income countries. Out of the 15 countries from Southern and East Africa, South Africa is 9th in terms of reading ability.

“We still don’t know whether it is because teachers can’t impart the knowledge or because they won’t. But it is clear that our school system performs dismally, and that little work gets done in classrooms.”