Maths and Science

maths and science south africa

Maths and Science score in South Africa close to lowest globally

Zilla Stekhoven: Founder of Sawabona Africa

When I was first introduced to algebra, I could not get my head around it. I struggled to follow the pace of my teacher. My parents supported me with extra maths tutoring to help bridge the small learning gaps. Eventually it made sense and I performed well in Matric (final year of high school). 

Many children in South Africa don’t have this privilege. As we look at the state of maths and science in South Africa today, the picture is staggering. In this blog I explore the status of maths and science of the vast majority of South Africans and how we can help.

Only 16% of school leavers achieve the grades to start STEM studies

In the international TIMMSS Assessment of Maths and Science achievement South Africa received close to the lowest score among participants in 2019 – just 370 points compared 600 achieved by leading Singapore or Japan.1 Only 1% of those measured performed at an advanced level.

Over the past 14 years, the percentage of matrics writing science has dropped from 40% to 30%. Only 38 % of matrics wrote maths, of which only 16% achieved a grade higher than 60%, which is required to study a Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths (STEM) degree. 2.

Many learners are under prepared despite passing at school, to even complete their first year at university. Professor Kakoma Luneta, professor of Mathematics at the University of Johannesburg, says “In every single maths and science exam in which South Africa has taken part, we have performed dismally. We might get distinctions because candidates have been drilled and coached in after-hours clinics and programmes, but the underlying conceptual understanding is not there, and this is why these students then find courses which require analysis at university level difficult. 3.

Unfortunately, most schools do not have the resources, teachers or capacity to help learners navigate their maths and science curriculum, and learners are left stranded.

New math tutoring programme supported by Sawabona Africa

Children living in townships, and attending no-fee schools have an added disadvantage to succeeding in Maths and Science. In 2021 45% of children from these schools failed Maths. Note a mark of 30% is considered a pass. 4. This is why we support PYMA, our partner charity to help learners with maths and science. Last year we piloted a maths tutoring programme, offering matrics from Freedom Park to attend Saturday classes to help them prepare for their matric.

Phindile Nkosi from PYMA’s Matric class 2023 says, “PYMA walked my academic journey with me and supported me to improve my grades. I attended the Maths and Sciences programme every Saturday.  We received the best guidance from experts in maths and this made learning more effective”. Phindile passed with two distinctions, and has been accepted at university

Image: Phindile Nkosi attended Maths and Science classes. Source PYMA

Make maths and science approachable

Ritwika Chattergee, Phd student in molecular biology, volunteers at Sawabona Africa to support PYMA’s Math and Science programme. She sees the increase in STEM students, as a way to support the development development of South Africa.

This is how Ritwika describes the goal of the tutoring material: ‘’Every student has a different learning pace. Often, many learners feel lost in the vast range of difficult topics taught in class and gradually lose interest in science and maths. By presenting concepts in a creative and easy to digest manner, students can benefit immensely especially while tacking their matric syllabus. Our goal is to make STEM subjects approachable and exciting to young learners, who could eventually drive South Africa towards a brighter future!’’

Maths and science classes
Image: Maths and Science class at PYMA. Source PYMA

Our wish for PYMA and the learners in Freedom Park

Our wish is to reach more learners and to create a learning hub for math and science.

Thanks to a generous donation from EOS this year, PYMA has been able to hire 2 skilled tutors to provide extra tutoring to matrics with their maths and science studies.

In addition to create learning materials, PYMA needs equipment for the maths and science hub. Most importantly computers so learners can access on line study materials. PYMA’s also plans to host maths and science career workshops to motivate learners to study maths and study STEM courses after school.

Join us in making a meaningful impact and help more children in South Africa enter STEM careers

Your help can come in many ways

  • Join Ritwika and create learning materials for students, to help bridge the learning gap
  • Sign up as a sponsor of a tutor to help cover the additional costs of maths and science tutors
  • Donate to our Maths and Science fundraising campaign.