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South African pupils not ‘second worst in the world’ in maths & science

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A blackboard at the Kurulen Primary school in Vuwani, Limpopo, on the day the school reopened in August 2016 following an arson attack. Photo: AFP/MUJAHID SAFODIEN A blackboard at the Kurulen Primary school in Vuwani, Limpopo, on the day the school reopened in August 2016 following an arson attack. Photo: Mujahid Safodien/AFP

South African pupils did badly in the latest international maths and science assessment. But they’re not, as was dramatically claimed by business and technology news website BusinessTech, the “second worst in the world”.

If it were true, it would place the country 195th out of 196 countries (depending on how you count).

The assessment is the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), where the mathematics and science knowledge of Grade 4 and Grade 8 pupils was tested. Four African countries were included in the assessment: South Africa, Botswana, Egypt and Morocco. However, in South Africa, Grade 5 and Grade 9 students took the tests, as did pupils from Norway and Botswana.

Out of the 39 countries assessed, South Africa’s Grade 9 students placed 38th for mathematics performance and 39th for science performance. The country’s Grade 5 pupils placed second last out of 48 countries for their mathematics performance. Kuwait was last.

It is not a world ranking, however. So claims of South Africa coming “second worst in the world” are incorrect.

Another assessment, the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ), placed South African Grade 6 students 8th out of 15 southern and eastern Africa countries for their average student mathematics score in 2005-2010. - 30/11/2016


Additional reading

GUIDE: Assessing South Africa’s schooling system

Is SA’s education system the worst in Africa? Not according to the data

Are 80% of South African schools ‘dysfunctional’?

Is SA bottom of the class in maths and science? WEF ranking is meaningless

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