South Africa continues to rank near the bottom in international maths and science comparisons.
According to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study that asseses 60 countries and benchmarking regions, the country has shown some improvement but not enough to lift it out of the bottom echelons of the rankings.
In terms of Grade 4 maths, South Africa scored a paltry 376, although this was ahead of Kuwait but behind Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. By Grade 8, math scores drop to 372, ahead of Saudi Arabia and behind Morocco, Jordan and Botswana.
South Africa occupies the bottom place for Grade 8 science scores, with 358, behind Egypt, Botswana, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Japan continue outperforming all participating countries in mathematics at the fourth and eighth grades, maintaining a 20 year edge according to results released today from TIMSS, the longest running, large scale international assessment of mathematics and science education in the world.
Between the top performing countries and the next highest performers there was a pronounced gap, of 23 points at the fourth grade and 48 points at the eighth grade, according to the quadrennial assessment directed by Drs Ina VS Mullis and Michael O Martin at IEA’s TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Centre in Boston College.
Those East Asian countries were strong in science as well, but the results were more varied. In fourth grade science, Singapore, Korea, Japan, and the Russian Federation had the highest achievement, and in eighth grade science it was Singapore, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Korea, and Slovenia.
More than 600 000 students around the world participated in TIMSS 2015 and TIMSS Advanced 2015, an analysis of secondary school students in STEM programs. TIMSS has been administered every four years since 1995, and is sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) in Amsterdam. TIMSS Advanced was conducted in 1995, 2008, and 2015.
Over the short term and the longer 20-year period, TIMSS 2015 shows achievement trends are up, with more countries registering increases than decreases in both grades and subjects.
“The positive trends indicate education is improving worldwide, and it’s not at the expense of equity between high and low achieving students,” says Mullis. “Remarkably, many countries have been able to boost TIMSS scores across the achievement continuum and some have reduced achievement gaps as well.”
Other highlights include:
* More students than ever were able to reach the highest levels of achievement — more than 40% in fourth grade mathematics and science, and more than 30% at eighth grade.
* Gender gaps have narrowed. The 20-year trends show longstanding differences favouring boys in mathematics and science have been reduced, especially in science and especially at the eighth grade. Results from TIMSS Advanced show a considerable narrowing of the gender gap in physics, perhaps reflecting the developments at earlier grades. Unfortunately, more boys than girls still enroll in advanced mathematics and physics.
* Curricula have changed across the globe over the 20 years of TIMSS. Preprimary programs often include curricular guidelines in mathematics and science, and topics once covered in higher grades are now taught in lower grades. Fourth grade mathematics often includes data and statistics, and fourth grade science has shifted from general study of students’ environments to life science, physical science, and earth science.
* An early start in education has a lasting effect through the fourth grade. Higher achievement was tied to students who attended at least three years of preprimary programs, and whose parents often engaged with them in early numeracy and literacy activities before beginning primary school.
* Students liked their instruction — a lot. At the fourth grade, 94% of students found their teaching engaging, and 84% at the eighth grade did.
* Students start out confident in mathematics and science at the fourth grade, but that feeling erodes by the eighth grade — where about 40% of students report they were not confident in those subjects.
* Most students felt they fit in at school — 96% at fourth grade and 91% at eighth grade.
* With the emergence of cyberbullying, school-related bullying is a growing concern, with 45% of fourth grade students reporting being bullied monthly or weekly, and 37% at the eighth grade. Among those reporting weekly incidents, achievement was markedly lower.
* Schools are safer places overall, however. The proportion of students attending “very safe and orderly schools” increased from less than half in 2007 to approximately two-thirds in 2015. Teachers in 14 countries reported primary schools were more safe and orderly in 2015 than in 2011, and that schools were only less so in three countries.
* Teachers are satisfied in their jobs, according to those who teach more than 90% of students at both grades.
TIMSS data enables participating countries to make evidence-based changes in educational policy. Officials have used TIMSS to monitor education systems’ effectiveness in a global context, identify gaps in resources and opportunities, pinpoint areas of weakness, and measure the impact of new initiatives.
The TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center is housed at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, where researchers co-ordinate thousands of international staff, contractors, and collaborators — from government officials to researchers to teachers — in order to carry out an assessment that fairly and accurately measures educational outcomes despite the world’s multiplicity of languages, cultures, ethnicities, races, and available resources.