Too good to be true?


Amongst all the bad news we hear and see everyday, the 2013 National Senior Certificate (NSC) matric results are certainly some welcomed good news, but are they too good to be true?

• A 4,3% increase in the pass rate from 73,9% to 78,2%.

• A 4% increase in the bachelor pass rate from 26,6% to 30,6%.

• Eight of our nine provinces showing an increase in their pass rate.

• An impressive 16,6% increase in pass rate over the last four years.

The news was met with widespread skepticism, cynicism and concern. Political parties, educational commentators and experts and the general public have been quick to raise questions and highlight some very concerning facts behind the headlines.

High number of dropouts

One such question pertains to how many of the children who started within the schooling system at Grade 1 actually went on to sit for the Grade 12 examinations in 2013. If one recalculates the matric pass rate based on this number it is approximately 37%.

Although it is completely reasonable to expect a certain number of dropouts through the course of Grade 1 to 12, our country is faced with challenges that perhaps make this number higher than acceptable.

• High national unemployment and poverty forcing children to leave school early and seek work to support their family.

• High crime rate negatively impacting a child’s ability to attend school i.e. drug abuse and related crimes, child abuse etc.

• High childhood pregnancies often forcing young girls to leave the schooling system.

• Death of parents or guardians resulting in child-headed households.

Pass mark too low

To successfully receive an NSC matric pass, learners need to pass at least five of their six subjects and obtain a sub-minimum of 20% for their sixth subject.

A pass is qualified as follows:

• Achieve 40% or higher for maths and their primary and secondary languages.

• 30% or higher for their other subjects.

Many business leaders and academics in the higher and further education fields have criticised the low pass mark and suggest that it does not adequately equip matriculants with the skills needed to successfully enter the world of work and or universities.

In response to this criticism, Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande has suggested that raising the pass mark to a suggested 50% would equate to “throwing away half our young people”.

Poor maths and science results

Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga herself expressed displeasure with the matric pass rate for maths and science, noting in her 2013 National Diagnostic Report of Learner Performance issued by the department that “… the quality of passes in key subjects such as mathematics, physical sciences, accounting, life sciences, economics and agricultural sciences, are still below desirable levels.”

A pass mark of no less than 50% is required for admission into bachelor degrees in the sciences, commerce and engineering. Only 26,1% of matric learners who wrote the maths exam achieved a pass mark of 50%, and less than that achieved a pass of 50% for physical science.

Quality of markers questioned

The Chairperson of the Education Quality Assurance Council Umalusi, SizweMabizela expressed concern regarding the appointment of matric markers in some provinces and the possibility that their appointment may have been subject to political and union pressure.

In light of this, the credibility of the 2013 matric results has been brought into question by some and there is a call to have the quality and competency of marking standardised around the country.

The future

Research shows that 70% of South Africa’s young men and women aged between 15 and 24 years of age are not in education, training or employment. Perhaps this is linked to the high number of school dropouts before successfully matriculating or perhaps it is linked to the low matric pass mark and how it does not equip children for work or further or higher education; whatever it is there is certainly a need to address this high percentage, which now equates to an estimated 4,3 million people.

The Higher Education and Training Department’s new post-school education and training policy hopes to address this. The white paper released in January 2014 sets out a single system designed to accommodate everyone from those in school to doing post-doctoral research. It will allow movement between different institutions types i.e. training colleges and universities. It introduces mechanisms to monitor administration and aims to review and streamline college curricula.

Whether you think the 2013 matric pass rate is too good to be true or not, it is certainly igniting dialogue, debate and focus and that, can never be too good.

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This edition

Issue 58