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January 9th, 2018 by


Last week the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, revealed the matric pass rate for 2017. And surprise surprise, it looks pretty good. It’s the third highest result our students have achieved in the last decade, and a massive improvement from the dismal 2009 outcome – 60.6%.

As is custom in South Africa, though, the official pass rate doesn’t tell the full story.

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Things Are Looking Up

Compared to 2016’s 72.5%, last year’s matriculants achieved a higher pass rate of 75.1%. That’s official. Students were able to receive their individual results on the 5th of January, from their schools, major newspapers, local websites, the centres where they slogged their way through their exams, etc.

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Over half of our students passed with the required standard which enables them to seek further, higher education in Universities.

With that, congratulations to the students who rolled their sleeves up, worked hard all year and emerged victorious.

Matric, of course, is one of the major causes of stress in our society. Failing to pass or do as well as you had hoped can leave many students feeling alone, anxious or worthless. Therefore, it makes for problematic work when navigating our failures as a nation. Because, nobody wants to diminish the hard work our students have done in order to achieve a good result.

Naturally, failure is normal. We’ve all had a taste. Nothing expresses this sadness better than what follows…

An inconvenient truth.

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The Real Pass Rate?

As has been largely publicized this week, the official pass rate has been revealed without considering a number of factors.

We’ve ignored the large percentage of students who drop out of school before taking the matric exams. We’ve ignored the students who have failed Grade 11 so many times that they’ve just been automatically pushed through into matric. These students could possibly bring the pass rate down.

DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Nomsa Marchesi, among others, has criticized the results for not being a true reflection of the state we’re in. Marchesi has congratulated the matric class of 2017, but has also said that the real results are a cause for concern, not celebration.

Equal Education, likewise, has described the matric pass percentage as a ‘superficial and misleading indicator of public education quality.’

The problem here is that Minister Motshekga has failed to address how many Grade 10 students from two years ago have actually gone through and passed matric, nor the inadmissibly high amount of students who have dropped out. The official pass rate only reflects the performance of those students who managed to stay in school for 12 years.

The DA has stated that 41% of the students who had enrolled for Grade 10 in 2015 did not enlist for matric this year. That means that nearly half of our learners are getting stuck in the system or dropping out. The Basic Education Department has completely failed to address learner retention.

Equal Education went one further and broadened the perspective, choosing to use a cohort matric pass rate. The cohort matric pass rate represents the percentage of learners in Grade 2 who pass matric 11 years later.

Of the 1,022,853 Grade 2 students, only 629,155 registered for matric exams and only 524,484 wrote them.

 

South Africa In Trouble

If the above information is anything to go by, we have a dropout rate of 47.75%. This is taking into account that Equal Education has used the total number of enrolments across public and private schools in its calculations. Therefore, we could say that the real pass rate is as low as 39.25%.

Or, as the DA has worked it out – 37.3%. No matter how we slice it, it’s not looking good.

The following table only takes into account the enrolments in public schools. The DBE matric pass rate is based on this.

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It’s been woefully clear for a long while that our education system has been failing our learners. Not just in matric but before they even reach the final years of schooling. Internationally, we are among the worst in world.  Out of 39 countries for the Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) 2015, Marchesi reported that we came dead last in Grade 8 Science and second-last for Mathematics.

She also cited the recent Progress in International Reading Literacy Studies (PIRLS) 2016 study. In this, out of 50 countries, South Africa placed dead last again in Grade 4 reading skills, and the study revealed 78% of South African Grade 4 learners to be illiterate.

In the 12 key subjects, last year our students achieved 62 154 distinctions. That’s 4.6% down from 2016. Last year also saw nine schools attain those loftiest of heights – a zero per cent pass rating. All of them were quintile 1 and 2 schools. The poorest schools, that don’t pay any fees.

On the upside, in 2016 we had 18 schools hit the zero mark. Not a single pupil passed.

So, we’re getting better. Inspirational.

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