Minister welcomes improvements in TIMSS study

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Pretoria - Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga says the department is very pleased with the consistent improvements seen in the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

“This independent study gives an encouraging account of how we measure up in a widely recognised international testing programme aimed largely at assessing whether countries are making progress in education over time,” said the Minister at the release of the results of the study on Tuesday.

She said the TIMSS 2015 study points towards a steady but upward trajectory of the education sector.

South Africa was a leading African participant among 59 countries in TIMSS 2015.

“Our participation in internationally benchmarked studies provides valuable and credible information that can disentangle post-truth politics and affirm the upward trajectory in the sector evidenced by improving Mathematics and Science skills; better schooling conditions; and decreasing inequality in education communities,” said Minister Motshekga.

She said large-scale assessment programmes such as TIMSS offer a reliable independent measure to monitor the performance of learners in key subject areas in order to assess the health of the education system.

The study shows that South Africa has made the biggest improvement of any education system in the world since participating in the study.

“TIMSS performance from 2003 to 2015 shows that there was a significant improvement of 87 points for Mathematics and 90 points for Science, more than for any other country with comparable data.

“The improved TIMSS scores should also be viewed in context of concentrated efforts and support provided in the senior phase. Historically, this phase has been a challenge for the sector,” explained the Minister.

She said the 2014 Annual National Assessment (ANA) results showed that while there were noteworthy improvements in lower grades; the senior phase was challenged in not delivering the expected progress against targets the department had set itself.

At the Grade 9 level, the TIMSS 2015 results show that there were noteworthy improvements at the lower and top end of achievement scores.

The highest gains were achieved by learners at the lower end. The Minister said the encouraging news is that 3.2% of Mathematics learners and 4.9% of Science learners can be categorised at the high levels of achievement – in other words scoring over 550 points.

“Basically this means that we are seeing the gap between the lower performing schools and higher performing schools getting smaller. This is a huge step in the right direction in terms of improving equality in education,” said Minister Motshekga.

She said the department will continue to give greater focus to learners that have the potential to improve their scores to above 400 points. This will positively influence the results of South Africa even further in the next TIMSS cycle.

The Minister said at the Grade 5 level, the country’s performance in the TIMSS Numeracy (TIMSS-N) study was below 400 points but this represents an important baseline from which the department can harness valuable data on fundamental mathematical knowledge, procedures and problem-solving strategies of learners in the intermediate phase of schooling.

She said the profile of data at this level will assist the sector to identify areas where basic mathematical knowledge can be improved so the country can move above 400 points in the next Numeracy study.

“The results by province also show quite unique stories. The decrease in provincial inequalities with the lower performing provinces demonstrating the biggest improvements in achievement shows that our targeted intervention programmes in selected provinces and districts are starting to bear fruit.

“The analysis showed that since 2003, Limpopo had the highest Grade 9 average score increase, by more than 100 points, in Mathematics and Science. Two provinces have historically jostled and competed for top spot. Gauteng had the highest scores at Grade 9, achieving above 400 points while Western Cape had the top position at Grade 5.”

One area of concern that was identified in the report is the high level of bullying prevalent in schools.

Bullying is a global phenomenon that has no race or class boundaries and undermines the safe learning environments that learners need in order to achieve their full potential.  The long term impact of bullying is indisputable for both the victim and perpetrator.

“To this end the department has developed an anti-bullying campaign within the safety in education programme. This incorporates a number of elements including a teacher training and guidelines for schools on how to deal with bullying among others,” said Minister Motshekga. –

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