SA’s socially illiterate kids know little about the world

How smart are you, really? No, I am not asking how narrowly you were coached through the writing of past and “dummy” (really, that’s what they call it) matriculation papers to pass your final school leaving examination.

The question is much broader – how well- educated are you in a basic knowledge of the world around you?

Can you hold a simple discussion with a friend or stranger on how the economy of the country works or the basic organisation of the universe or some turning points in world history?

To test my hypothesis – that South Africans are socially illiterate about the world around them – I composed a bunch of questions and asked a group of Grade 10 and 11 children to answer them.

I should seek therapy for the depression that followed, but I ask you to take the test and answer honestly and alone, without calling on the World Wide Web.

The correct answers are hidden at the bottom of the letters section of this page.

NO, do not peek until you have attempted the whole quiz.

You would think one of the most fascinating aspects of South African geography is the question of where the waters of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.

If you were five or six years old, even before a teacher told you, a wise uncle or older sibling would have pointed out the non-obvious.

So where do they meet?

1A Cape Point, 1B Cape St Francis, 1C Cape Agulhas, 1D Simonstown, or 1E Saldanha Bay?

Believe it or not, only 24 out of 198 senior school pupils knew the answer, a mere 12.1%.

But worse was to come.

One would imagine the basics of the continent on which you live was top of mind, if only by virtue of colonial penetration and the European languages, what with the fiery “decolonisation” moment on campuses.

So we asked: Portuguese is widely spoken in this African country: 2A Cote d’Ivoire, 2B Rwanda, 2C Morocco 2D, Guinea Bissau or 2E Morocco?

Well guess what? Only 16 pupils got that right, at 8.1% of the total who took the quiz.

Experts say the reason children do badly in mathematics in later life is because the basics about numbers are not taught well in the early years. Here is an example.

Which one of the following is an example of an INTEGER: 3A 3.5, or 3B -2.7, or 3C 0.5, or 3D -9, or 3E 0.333?

Less than one third (30.8%) of the high school pupils, all of whom do mathematics, got this right.

You would think this question has too many clues in it to get wrong. Not so.

Which South African city has a newspaper called the Diamond Fields Advertiser: 4A Johannesburg, 4B Port Elizabeth, 4C Kimberley, 4D Bloemfontein or 4E Potchefstroom? More than 60% of pupils actually got that one wrong!

How well do you know your body? Just the basic bones.

More than half the pupils would have an operation on the patella and wonder what happened.

So where is the patella: 5A Ear, 5B Knee, 5C Elbow, 5D Ankle or 5E Fingers?

The next question was misleading, sorry.

Where was Nelson Mandela born: 6A Soweto, 6B Qunu, 6C Robben Island, 6D Johannesburg or 6E Mthatha. I won’t help you on this one.

Every English teacher deserves a lashing.

How do you get this one wrong in senior high school? Which one of the following is an ADVERB? 7A Abruptly, 7B In, 7C But, 7D Cat or 7E The?

Believe it or not, only 35.9% of pupils came up with the right answer.

Question 8 had the highest correct score (62.9%). Which animal is NOT part of the Big Five: 8A Cape Buffalo, 8B Leopard, 8C Lion, 8D Giraffe or 8E Rhino?

If you get this one wrong, see me after class.

And then, as a former science teacher, this heartbreaker in an age where a son of South Africa sends rockets into space and another has a minor planet named after him.

All planets revolve around: 9A The Earth, 9B The Sun, 9C The Solar System, 9D Mars or 9E The Moon?

No worries, ancient civilisations and 21st century pupils seem to believe the same wrong thing.

Finally, in terms of land area, the smallest of the nine provinces is: 10A Northern Cape, 10B Free State, 10C Gauteng 10D, Mpumalanga or 10E North West?

I challenge teachers to test their pupils without the answer code.

Let me know your results.

Professor Jonathan Jansen is the former vice chancellor of the University of the Free State, currently a resident fellow at Stanford University, US

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.