The South African education system has come under heavy criticism in recent years, including being labeled one of the worst in the world.
The requirements to pass matric have been said to be getting easier each year, and the requirements to get into university to study a bachelor’s degree were lowered in South Africa in March 2018.
Maths is one of the more important subjects when it comes to preparing pupils for university, and getting into a range of degrees, but South Africa’s maths levels have dropped significantly according to experts like former University of the Free State vice-chancellor Jonathan Jansen.
Jansen previously warned matric students that “passing Grade 12 in South Africa is actually quite easy, and it means very little”.
This is because the exams are too easy and do not test students as they should. This includes maths papers.
What maths teachers say
To find out what the state of maths is, MyBroadband asked a maths teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, whether matric maths standards have dropped over the years.
“Papers today are a mix between the old Higher Grade and Standard Grade papers, but they are definitely of a higher level overall than Standard Grade used to be,” said the teacher.
“Government papers leading up to 2016 were more comparable to Higher Grade maths papers, but have now dropped in level a bit.”
The Association for Mathematics Education in SA (AMESA) echoes this view. After the 2017 matric maths results were released, AMESA analysed the 2017 question papers.
Its conclusion was that while the papers were well-balanced, they were “marginally easier than the 2016 papers”.
Another teacher told MyBroadband that average learners with a good grasp of the basics should be able to pass maths currently, but to achieve 70% or more, learners would need to score well on more difficult questions.
“These questions compare very well with the more difficult questions in the old Higher Grade papers,” he said.
“There is no doubt that we still have a number of challenging topics and the recent National Senior Certificate papers contained plenty of unusual questions which would have suited only the more capable learners.”
Students are underprepared
HOD of the Wits School of Mathematics Professor Betsie Jonck, however, stated that students are entering universities underprepared.
“The old [Higher Grade] did a much better job,” said Jonck. “The curriculum is wide, but not deep enough.”
She added that students’ undergraduate studies are where a lot of “catching up” happens.
“The ideal would have been an extra year to prepare students well before their degree studies,” she said.
The DA’s Shadow Minister of Basic Education Nomsa Marchesi is more critical of how maths education has been handled by the government.
“Since 1995, South Africa has performed very poorly in the TIMSS subjects, especially in Maths and Science,” said Marchesi.
“The 2015 TIMSS results have shown that South Africa continues to perform very poorly and was ranked second last in Maths.”
“In order to avoid bottlenecks, dropouts, and repeats, the department has decided to implement bizarre progression policies to ensure that enough learners were pushed through the system.”
A comparison between maths questions from the 1998 matric exams, and those from 2018, are shown below.