Starting behind and staying behind in South Africa: the case of insurmountable learning deficits in mathematics

Author(s): Kotze, Janeli; Spaull, Nicholas

Date: 2015

Pages: p. 13-24

Serie: International Journal of Educational Development

Series Volume: 41 (2015)


This study quantifies a year's worth of mathematics learning in South Africa (0.3 standard deviations) and uses this measure to develop empirically calibrated learning trajectories. Two main findings are (1) only the top 16% of South African Grade 3 children are performing at an appropriate Grade 3 level. (2) The learning gap between the poorest 60% of students and the wealthiest 20% of students is approximately three Grade-levels in Grade 3, growing to four Grade-levels by Grade 9. The paper concludes by arguing that the later in life we attempt to repair early learning deficits in mathematics, the costlier the remediation becomes.

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