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2018 Matric Pass Rate Revealed – But Is The Government Lying?

Author: Jason Snyman
Date: 2019-01-09
The matric pass rate is higher than ever. Are our children really doing well in South Africa? Or is the situation actually far more troubling than you can imagine?

The Department of Basic Education released the 2018 National Senior Certificate matric results earlier this week, revealing a pass rate of 78.2%. This is reportedly up by 3.1% from the 75.1% in 2017.

The council for quality assurance in general and further education and training, Umalusi, officially approved the results prior to their release, confirming that no systemic irregularities had been found. Umalusi accredits the exams of both the IEB and the Department of Basic Education.

Statistics provided by Umalusi state that a total of 796 542 learners wrote these matric exams – 629 141 full time pupils and 167 401 part time. Of these, 33 412 were progressed learners. These are students that were pushed into matric from Grade 11, for whatever reasons, and only 60.2% of them passed their matric exams. Their rate was allegedly factored into the overall pass rate of 78.2%.

Minister of Bare Minimum Education, Angie Motshekga, said that 172 043 matric students received a bachelor’s pass, 141 700 diploma pass and 86 800 a higher certificate pass. Only 157 000 distinctions were achieved – a decline of 2.6% from the previous year.

As far as provincial pass rates are concerned, Gauteng (87.9%) just barely beat out the Free State (87.5%) for the top spot. This was followed by the Western Cape (81.5%), North West (81.1%), Mpumalanga (79%), KwaZulu-Natal (76.2%), Northern Cape (73.3%), Eastern Cape (70.6%) and finally Limpopo in dead last place with 69.4%.

The ranking, though at first producing seemingly predictable results, could be a little bit off. There’s a blatant disparity between rural and urban provinces being ignored.

Likewise, the Independent Examination Board (IEB) Exam results were made available a day earlier, on 3 January, which covers a number of (predominantly private) schools across the country. The IEB matric class of 2018 achieved a pass rate of 98.9%, as reported by the Mail and Guardian. This is also an increase since the previous year, improving by 0.2%.

12 372 pupils wrote the IEB exams in 2018, an increase from the 12 130 in 2017. Around 91% of those pupils are eligible to study for a university degree, 7% for a diploma and 1% for a higher certificate level.

So, there’s a very clear chasm between what is being achieved in public government-run schools and private schools, and the reasons for this are so obvious that they’re not even worth getting into right now. First, we need to talk about the controversy.

Is the Department of Basic Education lying about the 78.2% pass rate?

The ‘Real’ Pass Rate Is Much Lower

A number of organisations and opposition parties, such as the DA, were quick to pounce on these results, claiming that the 78.2% pass rate does not take the percentage of students who have dropped out of school en route to matric into account.

When we look at the number of children who entered Grade 1 back in 2007, for example, and compare them to the number of students still in school in 2018, we end up with a pass rate of only around 40%. Almost half the students who entered Grade 1 in 2007 did not write their matric exams last year, as expected.

“These learners are either stuck repeating grades or being lost to the ANC’s failing education system completely,” said DA Shadow Minister of Basic Education, Nomsa Marchesi. 

While the DA chooses to compare the number of students from Grade 10 to Matric (given that South African students may elect to leave school after Grade 9), Equal Education, on the other hand, compares the numbers from Grade 2 to Matric.

No matter how you slice it though, we end up with results far, far lower than the reported 78.2% mark. Equal Education suggests a pass rate of only 40%. The DA, taking only the last two years into account, calculated an actual pass rate of 37.6%.

Here’s something else that the Department of Sabotaging the Future of our Country doesn’t take into consideration:

The official pass rate is calculated by dividing the number of passes by the number of matrics who write the exams. So what about the students who enrol for matric but don’t actually sit the exams? There’s a massive amount of students who just up and vanish after enrolling. What has become of them? Where are they today?

Rain On The Parade

It’s a bittersweet thing. We all want to congratulate the students who passed matric. They need to be congratulated – it’s important. But then, on the other hand, passing matric in South Africa is actually pretty easy, considering the extremely low standard of education. In some subjects, now, you only need to hit a pathetic 30% to pass.

We have to look at more than just the pass rate when assessing the quality of our basic education.

One could almost say – and hope not to further dissuade the youth – that matric almost doesn’t carry any meaning anymore, and that the most impressive connotation with achieving it is that you, matriculants of 2018, have stamina.

While Gauteng celebrates, in reality, 45% of the province’s Grade 10 class of 2016 students have either been held back or dropped out. In the Freestate, 59.3% of 2016 Grade 10 students did not go on to write matric exams. Equal Education said:

The provinces that reflected the largest improvements in their 2017 pass rates (Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Kwazulu-Natal), were also the provinces with the biggest decrease in learners who wrote the matric exams.” “This points to a worrying practice that is commonly associated with high stakes testing: often referred to as ‘culling’ or ‘gate-keeping’. Teachers or principals sometimes hold learners back in Grade 11 or encourage them to take different subjects in order to improve pass rates.

Almost a quarter million minds have gone adrift since 2016. The public education system has failed them.

The worst part about it is that though the overall pass rate seems to be getting better, in reality, the situation may be growing direr by the year.

The fact that the best matric pass rates we’ve seen in the last decade – 2013 (78.2%) and 2018 (78.2%) – happen to precede general elections may or may not be a coincidence. Depends entirely on how much you trust our government.

Quality education makes for a hot topic on the campaign trail, and what better way to set voters at ease, and convince them of what a great job you’re doing, than by waving that high pass rate around like a victory flag.

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