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EXAM BLUES

Covid hiatus doing a number on 2023 matrics tackling ‘tough’ maths papers

Covid hiatus doing a number on 2023 matrics tackling ‘tough’ maths papers
From left: Karabo Baloyi, Kelebogile Sealetsa and Deon Mulaudzi. (Photos: Supplied)

Pupils who endured the long Covid-19 break three years ago now face the consequences of that interruption to their studies.

When the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the world in 2020, young Kelebogile Sealetsa found herself among millions of people who tested positive for the virus.

As a result she spent weeks at home, unable even to look at her books. Consequently, her end-of-term results for Grade 10 were not that good.

This year the 17-year-old pupil at PH Moraka High School in Temba, Gauteng, is writing her matric exams, which include mathematics.

The government has announced that 723,971 full-time, 129,064 part-time and 53,217 progressed candidates will write the national senior certificate exams at 6,337 public schools and 552 independent centres.

It also revealed that 162 question papers have been set by expert subject panels appointed and managed by the Department of Basic Education.

In July 2021, Unicef painted a disturbing picture of the impact of the pandemic on learning in South African schools.

“The impact of disrupted education since the Covid-19 outbreak has been devastating, with learners between 75% and a full school year behind where they should be,” the organisation revealed in an article.

In my school we didn’t have online lessons. I was trying to learn on my own but it was not easy.

It further revealed that “rotational attendance, sporadic school closures and days off for specific grades have resulted in school children losing 54% of learning time”.

Also, during that time, between 400,000 and 500,000 pupils had reportedly dropped out of school altogether.

Read more in Daily Maverick: It’s manic matric exam time – here are the mantras for pupils and parents to beat the Grade 12 blues

“This is most likely for children living in informal urban and rural settings, with household poverty also playing a critical role. The total number of out-of-school children is now up to 750,000.”

Kelebogile was among thousands who wrote the matric maths papers 1 and 2. The subject has been historically considered tough, requiring extra attention and preparation.

After paper 2 was written this week, the views of scores of pupils in social media circles suggested it hadn’t been an easy paper.

Experts suggest the loss of learning time during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 and 2021 was likely to be felt by pupils who lost out on key learning time in Grade 10.

“Paper 1 for me was exciting and a little bit challenging. Paper 2 was hard, as it [geometry and trigonometry] is my weak point,” said Kelebogile.

“The whole paper was everything I learnt during the year. But when I was writing paper 2, I felt under pressure and nervous because most of the topics I did not understand quite well. Paper 1 was exciting because I managed to prepare well for the whole paper,” Kelebogile said.

“Paper 2 is very difficult if you don’t understand theorems, but my teacher did prepare us well. I was having extra lessons with my teacher and also camping at school and practising maths every day to know my strengths and weaknesses,” she said.

Researcher Fernando M Reimers noted in the academic paper, titled “Learning from a Pandemic. The Impact of Covid-19 on Education Around the World”, that “the Covid-19 pandemic shocked education systems in most countries around the world, constraining educational opportunities for many students at all levels and in most countries, especially for poor students, those otherwise marginalised, and for students with disabilities”.

‘We did the best we could’

Karabo Baloyi, a matric from Mothimako Secondary School in Ga-Mothiba, Limpopo, said that even though they didn’t attend many mathematics classes during the Covid-19 break they tried to complete activities that helped him to pass maths, though with lower marks during the terms.

Online classes during the Covid-19 lockdown worked very well as a form of revision lessons but may not have been effective as first-time lessons.

“I was able to learn as much as I could because of the rotational attendance, and I worked hard with my class group. [We helped] each other with our schoolwork. Since we were unable to fully complete the Grade 10 syllabus, we did the best we could to make up for lost time and now we are hoping to achieve better results to qualify for university admission,” he said.

Deon Mulaudzi, a Grade 12 pupil at Nkumbulo Secondary School in Kwa-Thema, Gauteng, said he found paper 2 “very rough”. 

“I don’t know if perhaps I didn’t prepare properly or what. But the geometry part was very difficult.”

Deon felt that he missed a significant part of mastering maths basics because of the long Covid-19 break. “I think we didn’t get proper basics. In my school we didn’t have online lessons. I was trying to learn on my own but it was not easy. I still needed a teacher to help me,” he said.

Elly le Roux, a Pretoria-based private tutor, said online classes during the Covid-19 lockdown worked very well as a form of revision lessons but may not have been effective as first-time lessons, especially for pupils in rural areas or those in schools that didn’t have “stronger teachers”.

She added that rural-based pupils were likely to have been the most affected by the Covid-19 break, which had a huge impact on their progress.

A maths teacher for 42 years, Le Roux said she found this year’s paper 1 was very fair for both rural and urban-based pupils. She said, however, that paper 2 (trigonometry), which she described as “obscure”, was more difficult for both. This was because part of the paper was based on Grade 11 work, and only one of four questions was based on Grade 12 work. Mukurukuru Media/DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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