Alarming drop in students writing maths and science in South Africa

The number of high school students electing to take subjects which are vital to the economy such as accounting, mathematics and physical sciences is on a steady decline, warns the Democratic Alliance.

Citing the Department of Basic Education’s 2019 schools subject report, the party said that the number of learners who write exams for the above-mentioned subjects has declined each year since 2015.

In addition, the number of learners who then go on to pass said subjects is even less, it said.

  • The number of students taking Mathematics declined from 263,903 in 2015, to 222,034 in 2019 (a decline of 16%) – with just 121,179 of those students passing the subject this year;
  • The number of students taking Physical Sciences declined from 193,189 in 2015, to 164,478 in 2019 (a decline of 15%) – with just 124,237 of those students passing the subject this year;
  • The number of students taking Accounting declined from 140,474 in 2015, to 80,110 in 2019 (a decline of 43%) – with just 62,796 of those students passing the subject this year.

“Currently, our job market is facing a huge shortage of engineers – which requires Maths and Science – and health professionals, also requiring Physical Sciences as a high school subject., the DA said.

“While the Department of Basic Education has acknowledged the current trend occurring in these subjects, the declining figures over the last five years provide a clear indication that nothing significant is being done to change this.”

Concern over marks

Both Umalusi and the Department of Basic of Education have raised concerns about the country’s ‘stagnant’ maths marks.

The subject does not seem to be progressing in tandem with cognate subjects in terms of learner performances, said Umalusi chairperson John Volmink.

“For example, performance in physical science seems to be improving year by year, but performance in mathematics is not showing any signs of improvement.

“It is not any worse but it is not any better – it’s just at the same place.”

Furthermore, Volmink said that there are concerns about the number of candidates that are sitting to write the mathematics exam compared to the increasing number of pupils who are instead opting to write mathematical literacy.

He added that authorities may need to think about how it can stem this trend, and that there is a ‘fundamental problem’ with how mathematics is being taught in South African classrooms.

“Things such as problem-solving skills must be developed and the confidence to deal with not only routine problems but non-routine problems must be nurtured.”


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Alarming drop in students writing maths and science in South Africa