National Strategy for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education (NSMSTE): briefing

Basic Education

03 February 2004
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


3 February 2004

Chairperson: Prof S Mayatula

Documents handed out:
National Strategy for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education (NSMSTE)

Dr Cassius Lubisi of the Department of Education (DoE) briefed the Committee on the strategy and on Cabinet's input.

After the presentation (attached), Mr T Mseleku, Director-General of Education, added that it was critical to accelerate the level of participation of African women in mathematics, science and technology (MST). This would not lead to a lowering of standards. The current improvement of women's performance in the field should be welcomed. Regarding recent media coverage of matric results, he said that the raw and modified marks in maths and science were similar. Attacks on the integrity of the matric results were attacks on the Committee's integrity. South Africa's Matric was a quality examamination, comparable with other nations' school-leaving examinations. However, the DoE was not happy with the product so the curriculum was being changed.

The Chair proposed that the briefing on HIV/AIDS should be shifted to enable the Committee to study Umalusi.

Mr I Moss (ANC) said that the Committee should be properly briefed on the matric results, irrespective of what journalists said. Mr K Moonsamy (ANC) agreed that the Committee should not have its programme dictated by the media. It was extremely difficult to train and retain more maths and science teachers. The SA National Defence Force had 304 fighter pilots, four of whom were black. There should be an audit of maths and science teachers. The Soviet Union was one of the most backward nations in the world in 1917, but in 1957 they had sent the first Sputnik into space. He suggested that the DoE look at the Russian and Cuban education systems. Also, he asked for comment on the big business allegations that matriculants weren't qualified to enter the world of work, an on Minister Asmal's appeal for more standard grade enrolments.

Mr T Abrahams (ANC) asked if there was data available on the number of maths and science teachers who were at least one grade ahead of their learners. He was pleased to hear that increased participation by Africans and girls had not meant that there was a lowering of standards. It was a pity that the media themselves did not have higher standards - the recent headline of a Sunday paper on the matric results had borne no relation to the content of the article.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) asked what incentives would be provided to students training as MST teachers? She asked for more information on dedicated schools and getting resources to under-resourced ones. Did the statistics on the maths pass rate include coloureds and Indians and Africans who were not from South Africa?

Ms M Mentor (ANC) said that the focus should not be on matric results only, but on the nation's overall needs. Since 1997, South African learners had not performed well, and the outcomes should be examined. For instance, the Grade 3 systemic evaluation indicated failure. She agreed that Umalusi and independent bodies should be defended but Umalusi had said that learners not writing in their mother tongue were allocated a 5% advantage. The Committee needed to look at the whole system; the number of straight As in matric were irrelevant if they did not meet the nation's human resource needs.

Mr Mseleku, with respect to Minister Asmal's statement, said that it was a pity that South Africans equated quality with the Higher Grade. There was nothing wrong with matric without endorsement. In the Western Cape, 32% sat for endorsement and 68% passed. In Limpopo, 89% sat for endorsement and 20% passed. This indicated that students were not forced to take standard grade. Although more Higher Grade passes were needed, students should enter where they could afford to.

He felt that it was too early for an overall evaluation of the system. The new curriculum had been introduced in 1996 and for the first year, teachers had undergone only very superficial training. The right question regarding outcomes was not being asked. The intention had been to change the discourse around education, and this outcome had been met.

Answering Ms Dudley's question about dedicated schools and under-resourced schools, he said that it was a mistake to spread the existing resources so thinly that they had no impact. While the pool of resources was being expanded, the existing resources were being concentrated in a few schools which were performing well. Umbilwe, an ordinary public school in Limpopo, supplied 80% of that province's maths and science graduates.

Regarding incentives for teacher training, teachers' pay compared well with employees in the public sector but not with others in the private sector. The DoE had not had a performance instrument, like others in the public sector, but this had now been accepted by the teacher unions because it tied in with national priorities. NSFAS (the National Students Financial Aid Scheme) awarded bursaries, but in rural areas it was difficult to attract teachers despite this.

Where the presentation referred to Africans, this meant black South Africans, not foreign Indians, coloureds or black Africans.

Mr Lubisi said that in 2003, teacher data with a special focus on mathematics and mathematical literacy had been gathered and some of the preliminary findings had been shared with the Committee. There were enough of these teachers but their competence and confidence was less certain.

There was much discussion around the 5% advantage given to learners who were writing exams in a language other than their mother tongue. The DoE's finding had been that learners were not homogenous - some learners had teachers whose language of instruction was their third or fourth. The challenge was how to assist these learners. Another was to identify talented learners and guide them into specific programmes which guaranteed them entry into higher education. There were many talented learners who did not enter higher education. Besides identifying these learners, the schools should assist in ensuring that NSFAS registration fees did not block access.

Mr Moss said that if the Dinaledi project dictated rollout, poorer provinces were worst off. Also, as not enough was being done in primary school, could unemployed maths and science graduates be trained to teach these subjects?

A member commented that the performance of rural schools in maths and science in matric was impressive. He asked for more breakdowns of rural schools' performance and expressed concern for students with disabilities.

Ms D Nhlengethwa (ANC) said that she had come across a school where the teachers believed that without a pass in mathematics, learners would fail. They said that this was the meaning of a DoE circular, which they referred to as "Circular 88". She asked for a breakdown of the Dinaledi project according to province.

Prof S Ripinga (ANC) said that the Department needed a budget plan on how to place a competent and confident teacher in every classroom. The Committee needed time to look at the issue of Higher and Standard grades and the perceptions and stigmas around them.

Mr Mseleku reiterated the DoE's two-pronged strategy - the current strategy was to pool resources in dedicated schools and the longer-term strategy was to increase resources. The object of today's briefing was to present an overview of the strategy, but members were asking for detailed strategic plans. The DoE had yearly plans, three-year plans etc. Retraining of unemployed graduates (to teach maths and science) was on the agenda for a future meeting. There were statistics on learners with disabilities and on rural schools and he would bring these to a future meeting.

Regarding the anecdotal confusion about failing maths meaning failing overall, he said that the outcomes-based education view of progression through grades meant that instead of talking about passing and failing, one talked about "core" subjects. There were different approaches to progression and sometimes these were combined poorly, which lead to the confusion described. The DoE would scrutinise "Circular 88" to see how the confusion had arisen and whether to take action. He agreed that there should be a discussion around higher and standard grades because there was there such a stigma only in South Africa.

The Chair reminded the Committee that the National Assembly was shortly to contemplate the Education Laws Amendment Bill and that visitors from UNICEF were expected the following day.

The meeting was adjourned.


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