Editor's note

South Africa’s education system has battled historic challenges related to stark socioeconomic inequality and great disparity in life chances, a chasm deepened by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report released by Amnesty International in February 2021.

HSRC education experts warned of this risk in May 2020, mere weeks after school closures had become part of a hard lockdown to contain the pandemic in South Africa. The learning losses resulting from the disruption would be more severe for disadvantaged learners, wrote Dr Vijay Reddy, a distinguished research specialist at the HSRC; Prof Crain Soudien, former HSRC CEO; and Dr Lolita Winnaar, recently appointed as a chief education specialist at the National Assessment Directorate of the Department of Basic Education.

Having led South Africa’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) for 20 years, Reddy was well aware of the significant challenges that had to be overcome to make small but steady performance improvements in these subjects. The TIMSS team must have pondered this while analysing the TIMSS 2019 results during the height of the pandemic disruption in 2020.

Starting with Reddy’s article on the history of TIMSS in South Africa, this edition of the HSRC Review features a selection of articles on the TIMSS 2019 results, which is a snapshot of the education system’s performance in mathematics and science. It also covers several factors that have influenced achievement in this survey, which is conducted every four years. Mathematics and science are required subjects for learners who intend to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – careers that ultimately feed innovation and technological advancement to grow economies. These subjects also equip them to function in an increasingly technology-oriented society.

The articles examine factors such as gender differences, language, school leadership, classroom practice, learners’ self-efficacy, homework, home environment and school climate.

Analyses of the TIMSS 2019 results are ongoing. Please feel free to contact the researchers at the email addresses provided below each article, or visit the TIMSS South Africa website. You can also contact the HSRC Review team at the email below.