Minister Grant at the 21st Annual SAARMSTE Meeting
Thank you for inviting me here today. It has been a very interesting time for us over these last two weeks in education. We have been able to assess and analyse some very important data relating to our performance levels in mathematics, science and technology in Grade 12, as well as numeracy and mathematics in Grade 3, 6 and 9.
As you are aware, the National Senior Certificate exam results were announced on 3 January 2013. We were delighted to have grown the number of candidates passing mathematics and science, and achieved record-breaking pass rates of 73.5% in Mathematics and 70.9% pass rate in Physical Science. Similarly, we saw record pass rates in technology-related subjects, such as Civil Technology and Computer Applications Technology.
Earlier today, I announced the results of our 2012 language and mathematics testing for Grades 3, 6 and 9. I am very pleased to see that we have improved our performance levels in both language and mathematics. In 2012, the mathematics results increased by 4.3% in Grade 3, 3% in Grade 6, and 3.5% in Grade 9 since 2011. I am encouraged by the improvements we have seen in the results of both the National Senior Certificate exams and the Grades 3, 6 and 9 language and mathematics tests. These improvements indicate that the system is getting qualitatively better and that efforts to improve outcomes are yielding positive results.
While this is pleasing, there is no denying that we still have a long way to go in achieving the objectives we have set in terms of improving learner performance in mathematics and science in this province.
In Grades 10, 11 and 12, the numbers of learners enrolling in Mathematics and Physical Science are not adequate. In a research paper produced by Stephen Taylor on the 2011 National Senior Certificate results last year, it is noted that:
Increasingly, learners seem to be opting for maths literacy. The fact that the maths pass rate has not improved in response to this may reflect that it is not predominantly weaker candidates who are now opting for maths literacy, as one might have expected. This may imply that schools are not doing a good job of sorting between stronger and weaker learners and helping them choose optimally between mathematics and maths literacy.
This kind of research has been integral to our strategy to improve learner outcomes for Mathematics and Physical Science in the Western Cape.
Last year we adopted a new Maths and Science Strategy that aims to:
- Increase participation rates in Mathematics and Physical Science.
- Increase the numbers of learners passing these subjects in Grade 12; as well as
- Improve the quality of passes in Grade 12 in terms of improved average scores and/or the numbers of learners achieving A, B and C symbols.
The strategy includes various programmes and interventions. One of the programmes is aimed at assisting learners in their transition from Grade 9 to Grade 10 by giving them appropriate advice needed to select the right subjects in preparation for Grade 10, as well as advice on coping academically in Grades 10, 11 and 12.
It is imperative that we ensure that more academically sound learners take on the challenge of subjects such as Mathematics instead of opting for Mathematical Literacy than before. To achieve this, we need to ensure that learners have the capabilities to comprehend mathematical concepts at that specific level.
In 2012 we launched a pilot which included introducing new technologies to classrooms to support the delivery of the Mathematics curriculum. Learners were provided with notebooks which have been fitted with Mathematics software. The notebooks allow learners to work through lesson plans themselves and, for instance, sketch graphs electronically when dealing with geometry. In the Foundation Phase, Professor Servaas van der Berg and his team from CPUT and the University of Stellenbosch in 2010 carried out research on language and mathematics. The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) is also currently implementing the recommendations that this research produced.
These recommendations include, for example, regularly observing classroom practice for extended periods, specifically to observe levels of cognitive demand, pacing and time on task. Since the release of this research, Foundation Phase curriculum advisors have also undergone training in effective monitoring of classroom practice. The WCED’s language and mathematics testing for Grades 3, 6 and 9 provides the Department with essential data that can be used to refine and improve our language and mathematics strategy.
These tests are administered, tested and marked by outside service providers. In order to improve the tests further, the WCED approached in 2011the Centre for Evaluation and Assessment (CEA), an autonomous research unit within the Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria, to evaluate and update the existing testing instruments. After analysing and evaluating the tests, the CEA produced an updated test that was first administered in 2011.
The tests were then administered again in October 2012. With the release of the CEA’s research findings, we are better placed than before to compare and contrast the 2012 results with those of the previous year. In turn, this allows us to determine if our strategies in language and mathematics are yielding positive results, or if we are declining in performance in the different areas of testing. Research and data of the kind I have described here today play an important role in the development of our strategies to improve learner outcomes in this province, specifically in mathematics and science. We will continue to implement and refine these strategies and with the continued support of parents, educators, schools and the WCED, I am confident that we will ensure over time that we will improve learner performance.