Report: South Africa’s Math, Science Education Worst Globally

South Africa received news this week that no country wants to hear. The 2014 World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Information Technology Report was released, tabbing the African republic as having the worst education quality in the world.

However, the South African Department of Basic Education (DBE) has rejected the report, saying that is neither "credible or accurate" in a press release issued on June 2.

The report of the World Economic Forum global report on Information Technology is unfortunate. The report is not a credible or accurate reflection of the state of education in South Africa. This report falsely insinuates that South Africa's mathematics and science education is ranked as the worst in the world. The DBE rejects this finding as it is based purely on the opinions or perceptions of selected executives.

The WEF report does not base its research on any actual tests or assessments done by learners, they do not in any way interact with learners in the system or any credible education institutions to get their data. This perception index is based on interviews conducted with business sector executives and reflects nothing more than their personal perceptions.

In truth, the report never mentions actual students or test scores, but focuses on the following categories:

  • Quality of educational system
  • Quality of math & science education
  • Secondary education gross enrollment rate
  • Adult literacy rate
Out of 148 ranked countries, South Africa was rated 146th in quality of educational system and 148th in quality of math and science education. The country has a 28% secondary education enrollment rate and 76% of its adults are literate, according to the WEF report.
In its rebuttal, the DBE said its improvement over the past decade in the Trends in Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS) show that it is one of the rapidly improving countries in the world.
South Africa's improvement in mathematics of 67 TIMSS' points between 2002 and 2011, or 7 points per year on average, is among the steepest seen by any TIMSS participant. Only Ghana has seen a steeper improvement over this period. Our improvement is comparable to that experienced by Brazil in the last decade, probably the fastest and most consistent improvement in any international testing system in recent years.
In terms of math and science quality of education, African nations comprise six of the worst 12 countries in the world. 
In its mission statement, the WEF report states that it "provides an assessment of networked readiness, or how prepared an economy is to apply the benefits of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to promote economic growth and well-being."
A year ago, Koos Bekker, the CEO of South African multimedia giant Naspers, said that his home country was damaging its own economy by not developing enough engineers and other tech-minded young people.

In November 2013, Naspers CEO Koos Bekker warned that South Africa's poor education system is hurting Internet developments and investments in the country by not developing enough engineers to drive the country forward:

"To get an engineer you need a kid who is enthused about mathematics, and is prepared to study engineering at university. Regrettably our education system is so poor it simply does not yield the mathematics geniuses we need to go to university to become engineers."

06 4, 2014
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