Access to education has opened up since 1994, but the government has been less successful at improving the quality of education pupils receive, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said on Tuesday.
“In particular, we haven’t been able to improve the science and maths teaching in our schools, and this has created a bottleneck in the expansion of our university system and unemployment for many young people,” she said.
The redesigning of South Africa’s education system after 1994 had been a “mammoth undertaking”, Pandor said in a speech prepared for delivery at the launch of the Centre for International Teacher Education, in Cape Town.
“The new democratic South Africa inherited a school and university system that was exclusive and tailored to serve a small white elite,” she said.
“It had to be transformed into a school and university system that was inclusive and tailored to serve the majority of South Africans.”
Progress on the quality of education had been slower than anticipated.
“I was always worried about our poor maths and science teaching in schools,” said Pandor, who was education minister between 2004 and 2009.
“It was always my aim to put good maths and science teachers in all public schools and that was one of the most important reasons for reintroducing tied bursaries for school teacher training.”
She said the level of maths knowledge of teachers in South Africa was too low, and was worse than in Botswana and Kenya.
“Teacher education requires vigour, professional action on the results of diagnostic analysis and the commitment of time and resources to achieving success.
“There is a national consensus that there is under-performance in school education. It is important that we focus on preparing for success from the early grades.”
It was impossible to achieve sustained success in matric if South Africa continued to have primary schools that did not teach reading, writing and numeracy, said Pandor.
“Our current commitment to our children and their parents is to improve the performance of our schools in general and the achievement of our learners in maths and science.
“Yet, the evidence that poverty undermines education is overwhelming. I believe, I do, that schools can make a difference to disadvantage and that they can overcome patterns of inherited poverty.”
On December 30, monitoring body Umalusi said the 2014 matric results for mathematics, mathematics literacy and physical science were worse than in 2013.
Maths had undergone major changes in content, with the inclusion of Euclidean geometry and probability, Umalusi council chairman Prof John Volmink told reporters in Pretoria at the time.
He said the curriculum would prove a challenge to most pupils.
“This was shown in the learner performance, in that there is a significant increase in the failure rate compared with 2013,” he said.
“However, learners at the top experienced the mathematics examination much easier.”