South Africa’s education system is still deep in the throes of reform under its third
Minister of Education since 1994. Poor communities, in particular those of rural
Africans, bear the brunt of the past inequalities. The challenge was to explore the extent of the ‘‘gap’’ in students’ scores by comparing the advantaged and disadvantaged communities in this context. The TIMSS-Repeat 1999 data were explored and 3 categories of students were ultimately identified: advantaged, semi-advantaged, and
disadvantaged groups. Partial least squares analysis was applied to explore the science
performance but very few factors were found that consistently predicted performance across and within these groups. However, one dominant factor emerged in these models and that was the students’ performance in the locally developed English test that provided a measure of students’ proficiency in English, the language in which more than
70% of the students wrote the science tests. Students who had a higher score on the
English test also performed better in the science test, despite their backgrounds.