The ANC government’s ability to celebrate huge failures was illustrated in its response to the recent matric and Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) results.
The latest TIMSS results show that South African learners finished second-to-last in maths and last in science for 14-year-olds. This is, however, only part of the bad news.
In South Africa, grade 9 students write exams meant for grade 8 pupils, because the assessment is deemed too difficult for local grade 8 pupils.
This means that South Africa is at the bottom of the global rankings, even though our grade 9 learners compete against other countries’ grade 8 pupils.
Instead of asking whose heads must roll, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga celebrated the results – saying it showed South Africa has the “most improved education system in the world”.
“This independent study gives an encouraging account of how we measure up in a widely-recognised international testing programme,” said Motshekga.
The matric results are no different. With a “dropout rate” of over 50% for pupils between grade 10 and matric in multiple provinces, the education system is failing learners.
The Rapport newspaper revealed that the average mark for matric mathematics was a dismal 30.8%, while the average mark for the easier mathematics literacy was 37%.
Other subjects with low average marks included accounting (38%), geography (39%), and history (44%).
According to former University of the Free State vice-chancellor Jonathan Jansen, these matric results should be treated as a funeral.
However, the ANC government’s response to these results is a huge celebration – with singing and dancing.
Experts are not fooled by these celebrations, with the overall matric pass rate described as meaningless and a distraction from the education crisis in the country.
Education expert Nic Spaull said South Africa shouldn’t obsess about the matric pass rate in isolation, and that better primary school education should be prioritised.
He said universities are likely to feel the brunt of the lacklustre education system when their first-year students are not equipped to succeed.
So while the government is giving itself a pat on the back for doing a great job, experts are warning that South Africa’s education system is failing the nation and its children.
Jansen summarises it best: “So, to our political masters: if you don’t like funerals, go to a nightclub. If the noise is too much, go to a cemetery. But please don’t tell the public that a funeral is a party.”
This is an opinion piece.