Harvard University scholars showed in 2009 that a country’s economic growth was more clearly attributable to the mathematical proficiency of its high school learners than to their proficiency in other subjects.

Encouragingly, the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) in South Africa has focused its support to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on improving the quality of learner outcomes in mathematics (together with languages and science) — its motto, taken from the National Development Plan (NDP), being “committed to ensuring a South Africa where 90% of learners pass mathematics, science and languages with at least 50% by 2030”.

How close are we to achieving that goal?

The DBE has released the 2022 Grade 12 results, which have again shown a poor performance in mathematics. The DBE’s diagnostic report on Grade 12 learner performance in content subjects in 2021 showed that 77% of learners achieved less than 50% in maths in 2021, only a one percentage point improvement since 2017. (There is no point in looking at performance below 40% or 30% when a pass for any subject should be, and is at university, 50%.)

Expressed differently, in 2021 only a quarter of learners achieved above 50% in (that is, “passed”) maths.