Editorial: Better matric marks start in grade R

Pupils of Uvuyo Primary School in Soweto. (Nelius Rademan, Gallo)

Pupils of Uvuyo Primary School in Soweto. (Nelius Rademan, Gallo)

Much has been said and written over the years about our pupils’ dismal performance in the annual national assessments (ANAs), as well as in international tests such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss). The word “crisis” has often been used by education analysts to describe the state of the country’s education.

  As we report this week, new research conducted by Professor Servaas van der Berg from Stellenbosch University paints an equally gloomy picture of our pupils’ performance in the classroom. This esteemed academic, whose investigation examined pupils’ results in the 2012 and 2013 ANAs, found that the chances of most pupils from poor schools achieving a top pass in matric were doomed by the time they reached the end of grade three.

He also found that the learning gap between children from rich and poor schools was also “very wide” by grade four. Other colleagues in academia have concurred with his findings.

We need to credit Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga for her efforts in improving the quality of education. We applaud the fact that primary education participation by seven- to 13-year-olds is nearly universal, with 99% of those aged seven to 15 attending school.

But she needs to take serious note of Van der Berg’s findings. The clarion call from academics, as well as organisations such as Equal Education, is that matric begins in grade one. Whereas research has consistently shown that learning deficits are acquired in the early grades, millions of rands are spent annually on improving matric results.

That is not necessarily a bad thing, but we plead with the national and provincial education departments to focus all their energies on assisting pupils in the crucial foundation phase – grades R, one, two and three. If we don’t, our children’s education will be severely compromised.

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