SA mathematics and science is getting worse

Despite South Africa’s low global ranking for the quality of its mathematics and science education, the results from the matric class of 2015 show that matters are getting worse.

A 2015 report by The World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked South Africa last in the quality of mathematics and science education.

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

On Tuesday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that the matric pass rate of 70.7% in 2015 was down from 75.8% achieved in 2014.

In it’s 2015 technical report, the Education Department pointed to a drop in results in science and mathematics-related subjects.

Equal Education noted that the total number of matric candidates who passed mathematics increased from 120,523 in 2014 to 129,481 in 2015.

However, this reflected a 3-point decline in the percentage of those who wrote matric who passed mathematics.

Similarly, there is also an increase in the number of matric candidates who passed science – from 103,348 in 2014 to 113,121 in 2015. This was a 2.5% decline in the pass percentage, EE said.

799,306 pupils wrote matric exams in 2015 – 667,925 were full-time and 131,381 part-time. This is the highest number of candidates ever to write matric exams in South Africa.

The below table shows the percentage of matrics who achieved 30% and above in maths and science-related subjects between 2013- 2015:

Subject 2013 2014 2015
Accounting 65.7% 68% 59.6%
Business Studies
81.9% 77.9% 75.7%
Economics 73.9% 68.9% 68.2%
Mathematical literacy 87.1% 84.1% 71.4%
Mathematics 59.1% 55.3% 49.1%
Physical Science 67.4% 61.5% 58.6%

The technical report showed that for mathematics, the percentage of pupils who achieved above 40% in 2015 was 31.9% – down from 35.1% in 2014.

For physical science, 36.1% of the matric class of 2015 achieved above 40% – versus 36.9% in 2014.

Labour market economist Loane Sharp has warned in the past that universities were not producing enough engineers, doctors and scientists, as these degrees required a minimum of 60% for maths.

The education department’s report noted that the distinction percentage waned in key subjects in 2015.

Subject 2014 2015
Accounting 4.9% 4.1%
1% 0.8%
Mathematical literacy 2.4% 3.0%
Mathematics 3.2% 3.0%
Physical science 3.3% 3.1%

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SA mathematics and science is getting worse