South African mathematics, science education ranked worst in the world

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released its Global Information Technology Report 2015, which ranked South Africa last in the quality of mathematics and science education.

South Africa also finished close to last – 139 out of 143 countries – when looking at the overall quality of its education system.

The WEF’s Global Information Technology Report 2015 ranks SA’s mathematics and science education quality lower than Angola, the Dominican Republic, and Mozambique.

It should be noted that these rankings are based on the perceptions of business leaders, and make use of the WEF’s annual “Executive Opinion Survey” to establish how well a country’s education system is performing.

In this survey the opinions of business leaders are gathered on a variety of topics.

The WEF’s education quality rankings are therefore not an assessment of the actual quality of mathematics and science education (see Is SA bottom of the class in maths and science?).

WEF Mathematics and Science education quality rankings
WEF Mathematics and Science education quality rankings

Why SA’s education system is seen as poor

It is not difficult to see why South African business leaders think we have one of the worst education systems in the world.

The Trends in Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS) results show that South Africa’s performance is very close to the bottom of the surveyed countries.

South Africa’s poor performance in mathematics and science education quality was highlighted in the first three TIMSS reports – 1995, 1999, and 2002.

What happened in 2002 is that grade nine students in South Africa started to write the grade eight tests.

The reason was simple: the grade eight TIMSS assessment was too difficult for eighth grade students in South Africa.

In 2011 South Africa was only one of three countries – along with Botswana and Honduras – where grade nine students did the grade eight tests.

TIMMS results from 1995 to 2011
TIMSS results from 1995 to 2011

This did not do much to improve SA’s overall ranking. South Africa’s performance was so poor that the grade eight students of all the participating countries, except Ghana, outperformed South Africa’s grade nine students.

“A striking feature of the mathematics and science scores is that the average scale score of the top seven countries exceeds South African performance at the 95th percentile,” the Human Science Research Council stated.

“This means that the most proficient learners in South Africa approached the average performance in Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Republic of Korea, Japan, Finland, Slovenia and Russian Federation.”

To put South Africa’s latest TIMSS results in context – our grade nine students performed worse than grade eight students in other developing countries such as Morocco, Indonesia, Tunisia and Lebanon.

This should concern the country’s education department.

2011 TIMSS results

More on education in South Africa

Zuma government’s education quality shocker

Poor education hurting SA’s Internet industry: Naspers CEO

Don’t be fooled by South Africa’s matric results

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South African mathematics, science education ranked worst in the world