THE Department of Basic Education plans to encourage the majority of pupils to take up pure maths instead of maths literacy, the minister, Angie Motshekga, says.

Speaking during a media briefing before delivering her budget vote speech in the National Council of Provinces on Wednesday, Ms Motshekga said the department aimed to have at least 60% of pupils taking "pure maths" in the next five years.

According to the department, only 45% of pupils took maths, with the remaining 55% choosing maths literacy. She was concerned about the poor quality of maths and science passes, and that more pupils were choosing maths literacy to avoid failing.

There were high rates of repetition and failure in schools, Ms Motshekga said.

The department would focus on teacher development, conditions of service, recruitment and deployment. "All of us involved in this sector know very well that in order for us to improve the quality of our education outcome, instruction has to improve…. Within the next 180 days a full report of how this is going to be done will be made public," Ms Motshekga said.

She would expand support services for pupils through remedial classes, psychosocial support, and improved libraries and information services.

Ms Motshekga said the recommendations of the ministerial task teams on reading, and on maths, science and technology, had been integrated into the department’s plans and "excellent progress has already been made in implementing these recommendations".

The maths, science and technology ministerial task team was appointed by Ms Motshekga last year to probe the implementation of the government’s 2001 maths, science and technology strategy.

The task team said in its report that teacher development and support were inadequate and uneven across South Africa.

The quality of South Africa’s education system has often been called into question, despite government spending liberally on the sector.

According to the Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa’s economic growth is hampered by a serious skills shortage, particularly in science, technology, engineering, maths and accounting. This has largely been blamed on the poor quality of teaching.

Meanwhile, in a reply to a Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary question this week, detailing the current state of maths study in South African schools, Ms Motshekga said 327 schools had not offered grade 12 maths this year. The reasons for this would be probed, she said. South Africa has almost 25,000 schools.

DA MP and education spokeswoman Annette Lovemore said she would ask that the minister be summoned to Parliament to explain, in detail, how she would achieve the much-needed turnaround in schools.