The results of pre-matric school assessments need to be addressed to ensure long-term improvements in education, Prof Francis Faller said on Thursday (03/01/2013).
"An increase in a pass rate is always to be welcomed,” said Faller, based at the Wits School of Education in Johannesburg.
Matric results however needed to be considered against assessments in earlier grades.
The 2012 matric pass rate improved over a year by 3.7 percent, to 73.9 percent.
However, Faller said the results of the national assessments for languages and mathematics in Grades one to six, and again in Grade nine, were telling "somewhat different stories”.
"These assessments are very worrying,” said Faller.
"Up until now the Grade 12 and the [other] national assessments haven’t really been talking to one another and I think they really need to.” Results for the assessments for Grades one to two were ”fairly satisfactory”. However, they then declined ”rapidly” in Grade six and especially Grade nine.
Recent national assessment results for mathematics in Grade nine had a 13 percent pass rate.
The matric pass rate for mathematics in 2012 was 54 percent.
The discrepancy was "curious” and needed to be resolved.
Faller said attention should be paid not just to the overall matric pass rate, but to the "huge discrepancies” between provinces and the districts within them.
For example in Gauteng 12 out of its 15 districts achieved pass rates of 80 percent and above. None of the 23 districts in the Eastern Cape achieved that level. This indicated pupils did not have equal opportunities for learning.
He said literacy and numeracy needed to be addressed at the beginning of schooling.
Benchmark tests in literacy and numeracy being set by universities showed similar discrepancies. Faller said sometimes pupils displayed a level of competency below even the matric requirements in these.
He suggested this raised the issue of students being trained during school to take responsibility for their own learning.
"I’m not for a moment suggesting it is a one-way issue and a one-way problem. More attention needs to be given to the entire continuum of assistance.” Faller said pupils who had not achieved passes that allowed them university entrance should not be despondent, and explore completing diplomas and higher certificates.
He expressed concern that many of the higher education institutions did not have the capacity to deal with the influx of students.
"Massive investment” was needed to equip institutions like FET colleges and private bodies.
Faller said questions around the pass rate for particular subjects being at 30 percent were a legitimate concern.
"Most universities are reluctant to consider passes at that level.” He said while a 40 percent pass was ”somewhat more realistic”, an even higher pass mark — even 50 percent — could perhaps best indicate readiness for school leaving.
The high number of pupils who entered Grade one but dropped out before matric was a serious problem. About 50 percent of pupils who started school in Grade one in 2001 never made it to matric.
Most drop outs began in Grades nine, 10 and 11. At this stage some pupils and parents felt they had seen little value in education, or were becoming disheartened at having to repeat grades.
School education ultimately needed to ensure children left with basic literacy and numeracy skills, as well as the ability to use logic and reasoning.
Faller said the way to improve schooling was to focus on the development of people involved in education.
"The success and lack of success of a school has a lot to do with the management of schools.” There were superb examples of principals managing schools very successfully in difficult circumstances.
These kind of leaders were an inspiration to parents and teachers alike.
"It is possible for any school, under any circumstance, to perform better than in the past.” Faller said that ultimately, beyond access to textbooks, resources and capital expenditure, the one factor that stood above all was the quality of teachers. There needed to be a drive to ensure that ”the best, the high achievers” followed this career path.
Teachers already practising had to ensure they were constantly developing their professional skills.
"There is no quick fix,” said Faller. - Sapa