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South African Schools: Weak Test Results, but Some Good News

Tests of schoolchildren in South Africa show that they are not doing as well as they should. The government tested about 7 million children in 24,000 schools.

This year, for the first time, testing included students in the ninth grade. There was a sharp drop in average scores from first grade to ninth grade in both mathematics and language. The news was not all bad, however.

The country's Basic Education Department said young students appeared to make gains compared to last year. This is especially true of third-graders. But, the gains seemed to have disappeared in the ninth grade. At that level, only about two percent scored more than 50 percent in math.

A spokesman for the Basic Education Department says although the results have been criticized, they show hopeful developments. Students from poor families scored well compared to wealthier students. And he said the study confirms that school attendance is high.

Thabo Kupa serves on the executive committee of the youth league of the ruling African National Congress. He said the results for the ninth grade are disappointing. He added that the test results call for officials to act.

This year, South Africa's Basic Education Department was accused of failing to provide textbooks to students in the poor northern Limpopo Province. An employee was accused of dropping about 700 of the badly needed books into a river in Limpopo.

To educate an estimated 12 million students, the nation spends 207 billion rand, or about $23 billion. Education is South Africa's biggest budget item, and education spending is set to increase.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Alex Villarreal. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 03Jan2013)