Mathematics and science knowledge skills are key to our education system and our development as a nation. We need to increase the number of engineers, doctors, chartered accountants and other professionals in order to strengthen our competitiveness and enhance development. All these objectives require high competency in mathematics.
We face a significant challenge in the area of maths and science education. The neglect of maths and science for the majority under apartheid continues to haunt us, and so we introduced mathematics as a compulsory subject in the General Education and Training Band and in the Further Education and Training Band every learner is expected to take either mathematics or mathematical literacy.
For the first time in our history all learners in school now do some form of mathematics. This year we have 314 000 learners enrolled for mathematics in Grade 12. This is demonstration of the will of our young people to succeed in this important area. We have set ourselves a target of 50,000 learners passing Mathematics in 2008. In December we will know whether we have succeeded in achieving our objective.
Increasing the number of passes is based on our awareness that the low levels of success pose a serious threat to our development priorities. You will be aware that our learners have not performed well.In response to these challenges, government launched the National Strategy for Mathematics, science and Technology Education (NSMSTE). The NSMSTE identified 8 strategic objectives which were considered central to building a system that would create a platform for sustained development in Mathematics and science.
The strategic objectives are: Setting performance targets in all schools; developing plans to place in every classroom a qualified and competent teacher; improving the language of teaching and learning; identifying and nurturing talent and potential; strengthening cooperation with the Department of science and Technology; establishing and forming partnerships with relevant stakeholders to provide resources and technical support for the implementation of the strategy; evaluating and monitoring the support of Mathematics, science and Technology in provinces and introducing and supporting the use of ICT in all schools.
We have seen tremendous progress towards the achievement of these objectives. Of particular interest is progress made in mobilising resources for Dinaledi and other schools in the teaching of mathematics and science. This has been done through the Adopt-A-School project. The objectives of the Adopt-A-School project are to: Promote quality teaching and learning; encourage increased participation and outstanding performance in Mathematics and science; mobilise resources for schools to support effective teaching and learning; coordinate private sector support to schools and ensure equitable distribution and sustainability of assistance.
This year 287 schools have been adopted by different business institutions, private donors and selected institutions of higher learning. Government believes that to achieve our developmental goals, we need to harness the support of many partners.
In an effort to strengthen numeracy and literacy at primary school level, in March 2008 I launched the Foundations for Learning Campaign. This is a four-year campaign that seeks to create a national focus on improving the reading, writing and numeracy abilities of all South African children. In also seeks to provide energy, direction and inspiration across all levels of the education system as well as in homes and the public domain to ensure that by 2011, all learners are able to demonstrate age appropriate levels of Literacy and Numeracy.
Through the campaign, all primary schools will be expected to increase the average learner achievement in literacy/language and numeracy/mathematics to no less than 50% - indicating an improvement of between 15%-20% in the four years of the campaign.
The campaign will culminate in a national evaluation at the end of 2011 in order to determine its impact. The Campaign is a call for commitment to teaching and learning the art and skill of reading, writing and calculating to ensure that all learners have the basic skills for learning. In addition to these and other initiatives, a ministerial committee to look at developing an accessible teacher friendly syllabus to support curriculum implementation will soon be convened.
I received the results of the 2007 Systemic Evaluation of the foundation Phase (Grade 3) level. A random sample of 54,449 grade 3 learners from 2,355 primary schools participated in the survey. The survey was conducted by JET Educational Services. In a replica of the 2001 study, to allow comparison over time, learners were assessed through standardised written exercises to measure the levels of achievement in respect of the grade appropriate curriculum outcomes for literacy and numeracy.
The report indicates a positive improvement in the performance of learners in both literacy and numeracy levels. The overall mean performance in literacy improved from 30 to 36%, and the numeracy levels from 30 to 35%. This is still far too low for the level of success we want to achieve, but the increase in ability is a welcome sign of progress. The OECD review team that recently came to South Africa to a launch their review report noted that "this represent an unprecedented shift at the systemic level".
In essence the Systemic Evaluation indicates that we must harness our efforts and work with schools and teachers to encourage excellence. I look forward to our joint efforts contributing to the achievement of excellence.
By Naledi Pandor
South African Minister of Education