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SA’s ‘real’ matric pass rate: 42%

SA’s ‘real’ matric pass rate: 42%

The department of education has announced that 75.8% of matriculants passed their 2014 National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams – but in real terms, the picture is far less rosy.

Taking into account the number of drop-outs over the past 12 years, the real number of  learners who managed to get a senior certificate sits quite a bit lower – at approximately 41.7%.

According to statistics from the department of education, in 2003, 1,252,071 pupils entered into the South African public schooling system in grade 1 – these pupils would become the class of 2014.

Fast forward 12 years, however, and only 688,660 of those learners made it through to pen their matric exams.

This means that, in real terms, only 55% of the learners who started school in 2003 made it through 12 years of education – the rest were lost along the way.

Put another way, with a pass rate of 75.8%, this means that only around 41.7% of learners who started school attained a NSC, while 59.2% did not.

More alarming, that means only around 12% (150,752 learners) managed to gain admission to Bachelor studies.

Minimum requirements to obtain the National Senior Certificate

  • 40% in 3 subjects, one of which should be a home language;
  • 30% in 3 other subjects.

Higher Education requirements:

Higher Certificate

  • 40% for 3 subjects, one of which must be a home language;
  • 30% for 3 subjects;
  • May fail (less than 30%) a 7th subject; further assessment dependent on institution.


  • 40% in 4 subjects, one of which must be a home language;
  • 30% in remaining subjects;
  • Cannot fail (less than 30%) any subjects.

Bachelor Degree

  • 50% or more in 4 subjects;
  • 30% remaining subjects;
  • Must have more than 40% in home language;
  • Cannot fail (less than 30%) any subjects.

The state of education

Put in this context, it is clear that the matric pass rate simply does not give the full picture of the state of education in South Africa.

The department of education itself, has distanced the announcement as a measure for academic achievement in the entire schooling system:

“Contrary to popular belief, the Matric pass rate on its own is not a good measure of academic achievement in the schooling system, nor was the pass rate ever designed for this. However, the pass rate can serve as a measure of the opportunities open to our youths.”

Specifically, the final announced number is meant only to show how many pupils managed to get access to further education and at which level. (See side panel).

Further, this final statistic is affected by a number of other forces – such as the number of pupils writing; the subject spread amongst pupils; as well as top-performing schools skewing the average.

An illusion and a fraud

The matric pass rate showed a near miraculous increase under the Zuma leadership – hitting an all-time high of 78.2% in 2013.

While many government officials are celebrating this growth, many academics and educational experts warn against associating the matric pass rate growth with a healthy education system.

Theuns Eloff, former vice-chancellor at North-West University, said that the matric pass rate which increased from 60.6% in 2009 to 78.2% in 2013 is an illusion.

Eloff said that there are many indicators which show that there is no improvement in the quality of education in South Africa.

Free State vice-chancellor Jonathan Jansen previously said that the truth is that South Africa’s education system is a fraud.

Academics and educational experts highlighted that the following issues should be considered when looking at South Africa’s matric results.

  • More than 50% of 2013 matric learners passing are passing their individual subjects at less than 50%;
  • Many matric learners pass with a combination of subjects that allows no entry to training or any job;
  • The number of learners taking easier matric subjects has increased dramatically over the past few years;
  • Thousands of learners are taking Mathematics literacy instead of Mathematics, and thus nullifying the value of other subjects in their repertoire.

South Africa’s reported matric pass rate history

Matric pass rate history

Matric pass rate history

Year Pass rate
1995 53.4%
1996 54.4%
1997 47.4%
1998 49.3%
1999 48.9%
2000 57.9%
2001 61.7%
2002 68.9%
2003 73.3%
2004 70.7%
2005 68.3%
2006 66.5%
2007 65.2%
2008 62.5%
2009 60.6%
2010 67.8%
2011 70.2%
2012 73.9%
2013 78.2%
2014 75.8%

More on matrics

Matric pass rate expected to drop: report

Matric exam probe finds irregularities

Changes for SA matric pass mark?

Matric results: celebrating mediocrity

BusinessTech's Staff Writer is directly plugged into the South African Internet backbone, and spits out press releases and other news as they receive it. They are believed to be cl...
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  • Jev_LFC

    Smoke and mirrors. Keep the populace dumbed up.

  • dylanixon

    Retarded. These are matric class of 2014 results. Not the “what would have been the matrics of 2014” results. Stop comparing irrelevant statistics.

    • DJ

      The only thing retarded is your comment. The point to these stats is to show that the youth of this country are in large, remaining uneducated.
      Of the alleged 78% who passed, with what percentage did they pass & what is to happen with those 50% or so that never made it to matric?…..An uneducated society will eventually be the cause of collapse.

      • Cello

        No, it’s not retarded. 75.8% of the pupils who wrote the exams passed. 42% who started their grade 1 education passed their matric exams this year. It’s two entirely different statistics. What about pupils who died/emigrated/went into private schooling?

        • TestSA

          This is my thinking as well. Matric pass rate = pupils in matric who pass (no OTHER this and that attached).

          Other things need to be looked at separately

          • Emil

            Should be looked at but is swept under the rug, yes you can not include everyone that enrolled for grade 1 due to deaths and so on but it is still very relevant to know what is happening to the labor market. We are a laughing stock of the world!!! SA is uneducated, and to dumb to know it. We are arguing the merits of the indefensible.

    • EggAndSpoon

      We rest our case !

  • Mike

    In addition to this sorry story, South African universities now refuse entrance to “white” students with exceptional (90% or better) marks in Matric. They are obliged, by Government decree, to take “black” students and will even accept students who do not have the requisite marks for entry. The BBEEE fiasco will cause such damage that a return to acceptable worldwide standards will be nigh impossible. It appears that the degeneration caused by political ineptitude and lack of understanding of existing systems has put South Africa in the same boat as every other African country bar Botswana, who made no changes to their government and its systems when they became independent. Pity that politicians are not required to have studied history especially relating to their own continent and the ills that have befallen countries since Declaration of Independence by the majority.

    • hugo

      Not true at all. Where are you pulling this from your arse? No race is being allowed admission if they do not reach the requirements in any university in the country. There is nothing in BBEEE that states this must be done either. BBEEE’s role in university is associated with the management/employment and socio-economic activities, BBEEE has NOTHING to do with admission.

      Stop spreading false information.

      • JJ

        Maybe you should read the full comment instead of just going off about the BBEEE part of it. The writer never said that they were refused because of the BBEEE policy of the university. In which country do you live? This country’s BBEEE policy dictates who gets available jobs, or not, based on race. This means that they want more qualified black people which in turn affects who gets accepted at university and who not. Simple Logic. Why not comment on the fact that white students with exemplary results get refused? Maybe you should get your head out of YOUR “arse” and wake up to reality.

        • TheMadScientist

          Being a white PhD student at a top university in South Africa, I can say with certainty that top white matriculants do not get refused university admission based on race. While the admission requirements are lower for black students, it’s not by much. The national benchmark tests (devised and organised by the universities themselves – no government input) normalise the admission requirements. There’s some facts

          • JJ

            We are not saying that they are all being refused but some of them are definitely being refused. If not because of their race, based on what do they get refused?… If it is because their are only a certain amount of spots available and Black students with a “not by much” lower admission standard get those spots.. does that not constitute being refused because of your race? Being a “PhD student” at a “Top University” you should actually be able to figure this out, right… or has the standard of our education system now fallen so badly that even PhD students lack logic?

          • Frankly Speaking

            Seems the PhD student has his head stuck somewhere. It has long been public knowledge and Stellenbosch University have even admitted that they admit medical students not on matric results, but on a quota system. Don’t take my word for it – check the many reports on the matter. If a white child with an average of 95% is refused entry to make place for a black child with a 70% average, what is that called? As Shakespeare once wrote, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Well this policy smells, but the smell is definitely not a sweet one.

          • mzo

            JJ dude you are speaking rubbish number 1 no white student is refused for having good results. 2 point out universities that do such things and white people have better education than black people. most of white people can afford to pay for admission saying that which University in their right mind would chase a person paying cash oppose to an NSFAS student. CPUT, WATS, TUKS, UCT and UKZN have a strict point system which favours students with good marks no colours included.

          • JJ

            Dear Mzo… No one is so blind as he who does not want to see. Once again you are stereo-typing white South Africans as people who “can afford” to send their children to university and “pay cash”. Which country are YOU living in? Zimbabwe? Have you not seen the change in this country yet? Have you not seen the stats that the Black middle class is now officially bigger than the White middle class? Don’t you see who are driving the fancy German cars lately in this country? If there are people in this country who can afford to pay cash for their children’s education it is most certainly NOT only White South Africans but much more likely the new Black Elite. Please read the argument of the PhD student and tell me again if Colour does not play a role… Keep trying to sell that to the rest of the world.. blame it on Apartheid or just keep lying to yourself.

          • Blaq

            honestly comparing this percentages is just ridiculous – because of the demographics of south africa. whatever number you are comparing – is probably way too small to even consider considering the ratio between blacks and whites – based on whatever reason. i

            as an example
            perhaps say 10 000 whites can afford to pay the full amount, and 20 000 blacks can afford to pay the same amount – but if you check whatever number of those that cannot afford to pay – you will see that the number of blacks will be higher – its just maths – you dont even need common sense to understand this.
            Unless you are saying the fewer number of whites have better marks than all the black matriculants that are trying to get to university then we are talking a different story, if you can find the facts

          • Mad Scientist

            Who be you thy intruder …An impostor abusing my name…Blasphemy this is..

          • D3rP3R

            While the admission requirements are lower for black students

            nuff said.

      • dv8ed1

        are you sure you are reading the comment properly guy?

      • Gaetan Bovit

        this is not at all false information !!!!!! My wife’s son studies for doctor in Stellenbosch and he needed matric 85 % to get the entrance and a bursary …… black students from kwa-zulu and other regions only needed 50 % and they get full bursaries and travel expenses but more than half did not pass their first year cause they either just party the whole year or they cant even remotely follow !!!!

        • wo0two0t1

          Thats exactly what I found.

    • Lwazie

      @ Mike, there is no white student refused entry at the universities because of race! What you can say it that institutions have access programmes for disadvantaged students “black” if they do not meet the requirements for certain degrees. Well it is rare to find if any a white student who is coming from a disadvantage school – those are quintile 1 – 5 schools.

      • ursanegro

        most of the white kids in my Q3 school in my neighborhood drop out before grade 12 anyway.

        [i live in a poor white part of cape town]

        • Blaq

          some people just opt to go pursue N1, N2 and N3 instead of aiming for university – i know a few, instead of doing matric – the minister of education has already mentioned this. This Staff Writter is just bored.

      • Emil

        I hate getting pulled into a white and black debate but you are disproving your own point when you say

        “/if the programmes are full. What you can say is that institutions have
        access programmes for disadvantaged students “black” if they do not meet
        the requirements for certain degrees.”

        According to you the program can fill up with students receiving preferential treatment because they are “black” (quotation marks are your idea) then because a student had the bad luck to come from a better school (white) and got better marks he is refused entry.

        • David Collins

          That affirmative action has quotas to ensure some disadvantaged (and the disadvantaged part is not debatable) students gain entry…that is the only way to help balance the playing field in the future. No one is being denied because they’re white but because the class is full! 300 years of legal oppression and die ion the wool racists gonna bitch about affirmative action programs. Jeez.

          • Emil

            David, some classes allow only a certain amount of students or place a very high entry requirement for the class because it is difficult and statistically few students pass. By applying your politically inspired system and allow students not qualified for the class, you are doing no one a favour. We simply have less students finishing the degree that would have been filtered out in the beginning, or if you now want to lower university standards as well we end with unqualified professionals like doctors you can visit but I will avoid.

    • Craig M

      Blatant lie, you’re just trying to blow things out of proportion. You must be shamed to make such a pathetic claim. The results are bad yes but let’s not try to stir trouble when it’s not even in existence. Give me any 5 students you know of who had distinctions and were denied Varsity entrance and which varsity was it i am willing to investigate this further

      • OldRedNed

        Are you the writer of this article? If not, are you qualified to “investigate” this matter further? What this thread needs is matters of fact, not unsubstantiated opinions. So the question is, can you obtain factual evidence – or are we to be treated to yet another opinion?

        • Craig M

          I am the one who requested for the evidence from Mike so we can prove his claim. Now you’re asking me if i obtain factual evidence. Even though i am not directly going to investigate it but i will forward it to the right person.

          • Emil

            My, my Craig, I do believe you should check to see if your pants are not on fire, it seems you are telling a fib there. In your reply to Mike you said, and I quote “i am willing to investigate this further” yet just now you said “Even though i am not directly going to investigate it”.
            You don’t by any chance have a red beret on your head? Try to take it off for a bit, it looks like your grey matter is overheating.

      • The Shrubber

        ANY ‘varsity entrance is not the point.. why should a matriculant who achieved an A aggregate (a “good” A, meaning proper academically relevant subjects) be unable to study in his/her preferred direction due to a tertiary institution applying discriminatory, dumbed down admission criteria to give preference to certain “groups” (the make up of which is determined by seemingly applying the provisions of the previous government’s Population Registration Act, which Act was, by the way, repealed in 1989)?

      • JJ

        Hi Craig.

        Please read the following piece from an investigation done by The Guardian in 2014:

        “The University of Cape Town (UCT), ranked the best in Africa, has a controversial policy of admitting black students who have substantially lower test scores than whites. But the CHE’s task team, chaired by former UCT vice-chancellor Njabulo Ndebele, stops short of recommending positive discrimination.”

        • Craig M

          Send me the link of that Guardian newsapaper…even though it won’t be enough proof. The media is known for publishing controversial articles in order to sell their papers. We need solid proof

          • JJ

            Proper reply would be “please send me the link..”

            Here it is anyways:


          • JJ

            Please also read this article where a Black student, named Mr. Mpotulo, said the following:

            “I sympathize with a white student, doing very well, who can’t become a student here because of affirmative action,” he said, “but I think it’s an absolutely necessary evil.”


          • Craig M


            Read this link as well….it’s a link extract from the link you sent me. So basically if (and that’s a BIG IF), the university of Cape Town prefers black students than whites they’re merely doing what the apartheid govt was doing

          • Emil

            “merely doing what the apartheid govt was doing”, Craig my man, as I said in other comments to you, you are on your own hate filled, bigoted planet. An eye for an eye leaves the world blind, what in heavens name does kids leaving school in 2014 have to do with the apartheid govt? Please try to stand on your own two feet and leave your “apartheid” crutch in the past. Nobody likes a hate monger

          • JJ

            AND there it is… first the argument is “This does not happen at our universities”… then you lose the argument and go straight to “It is Apartheid’s fault”.. Just awesome 🙂

            That sir is called reversed Apartheid.

            Does the fact that this was done during Apartheid make it right? Do Black people now have the right to refuse white students who were born in the so-called “New South Africa” a tertiary education?

            “So it happens in South Africa after all… oh well whites did it to blacks first.”

            Am I the only one who is really getting GATVOL at this?

            Bunch of pricks!

          • Craig M

            It’s not me it’s the article….plus you were not the judge as to who loses the argument and who wins moegoe….and for your info i am not black like yo seem to think

          • JJ

            I never thought you were black, for one second.

            I don’t have to judge it is simple logic.

            Moegoe… lol. That must be your best effort after apartheid.

    • Hiswona

      Are you sure you can’t enroll to a farm tertiary joint at orania.
      There’s no BEE there. Just bring pa’s Hilux

    • David Collins

      That affirmative action has quotas to ensure “some” disadvantaged (and the disadvantaged part is not debatable) students gain entry…that is the only way to help balance the playing field in the future. Absolutely no one is being denied because they’re white! 300 years of legal oppression and racists gonna bitch about affirmative action programs. There has never been acceptable worldwide standards for South Africa. It was shamed & shunned by the world until 1994. For educational fairness, SA has a long way to go to measure up with Europe & the States.

    • KenyaYetu

      Racist idiot. get your facts right before you unleash your frustrations here. Perhaps an indication of how lowly educated you are.

  • KB O

    watch that movie : idiocracy

  • Ed

    To be honest my matric results where really bad.. Avarage of 50%.. even failing some subjects. And I’m not particularly proud of it but once in university I did really well, getting 95% for some subjects and an average of 75% for the first two year because I was doing something I enjoyed. I understand the concern but having bad results in matric does not necessarily mean you will be a bad performer the rest of your life.

    • Zing

      I agree with the content of what you’re saying, but how did you get into university if you failed some subjects?

      • Emil

        Easy, he made the story up!

      • tanya

        you can apply for a conditional exemption… i did it my average in matric was 46% my average in varsity was 67%-70%

  • v_3

    Instead of talking about the “pass rate”, SA needs to take a good hard look at the “fail rate”. According to the article:
    (1) 59.2% of learners failed to obtain matric (never mind university admission) – and are virtually unemployable
    (2) The Department of Education, correctly points out that “the pass rate can serve as a measure of the opportunities open to our youths.”; conversely, the Fail Rate indicates that six out of ten kids will be denied opportunities (apart from crime, politics and becoming dependent upon state grants).

    This is the result of cumulative ZANC policies of “liberation before education”, “burn don’t learn”, crazy educational experiments, ethnic cleansing of capable teachers, cadre deployments, AA appointments, tenders for Pals and those who “invest in the ZANC” and an acceptance of educational frauds or unqualifieds like Tshabalala, Hlaudi and Phiyega.

    • Never mind about those who fail to obtain matric, and become unemployable. Just consider those who do pass, but fail to find jobs. And then consider those who have even finished a degree, but are then unemployable because there is no market-related demand for their particular degree specialisation.

  • Silv

    not a true reflection. The youth that has dropped out from 2003 to 2014 doesnt mean they dropped out due to not being able to complete their exams/education.
    in 11 years, a lot of people moved, children passed away or started home schooling, went to colleages, etc.

    • dv8ed1

      then you have to look at why they moved…why they went to college…why they started home schooling… think about it

      • George

        I agree, that is secondary issue hence we have millions of assumptions at hand, we don’t know for sure why they left, my point is that whoever came up with 41 percent may be narrow minded because the conclusion is based on the hypothetical assumptions which is why I don’t agree with percentage.I don’t agree with 30 percent passing mark and for all the reasons why some scholars were left behind by the system, I know the majority of people here will go for quick wins eg dropouts exactly the same way our government does

    • Zing

      Move from one school to another should not affect the stats. Homeschoolers also write the standard matric, so this doesn’t affect the stats.
      Are you saying half the schoolkids died or emigrated? Surely not!
      You also have to consider immigration. More people are entering the country than are leaving. Are they also not going to school?

      • George

        I think we are looking at two different things here, the matric pass percentage you see relates to only students who took the exams in 2014, the only concern is that we are all assuming that they dropped out which a human assumptions, nobody has yet to furnish us with the exact figures, eg dropouts, left for private schooling, deceased, immigrated, home schooling, technical colleges etc then we can have correct percentage and plans to move the country forward, 41 odd percentage is just based on one assumption which drop outs, 30 percent pass rate is rubbish though.

  • Jay

    I’m reposting from the other article, because it is applicable. Even including the dropout rate, is not good enough. We want to know how many people can contribute after finishing matric:

    50% dropout rate x 50% passing with less than 50% (they are not fit to work or study, in my humble opinion) x 78.2% = 19.55% pupils fit to contribute towards the economy, but that’s just me!

  • Sam

    The Academic / Technical schooling model should be re-instated. Not everyone can or even wants to have a college / university degree. The high pre-matric drop-out is because not everyone is cut out for standard academic achievement. This is normal and technical people are essential for a healthy economy. Unfortunately the current model degrades these normal excellent technically capable people. These people end up jobless or doing jobs they should not be doing because post school technical training is far too expensive.

    • Zing

      Not just that. It’s now no longer possible to get an apprenticeship or work toward a trade without an N3 certificate.
      I don’t think this should be changed though. We are already making too many excuses for the failing education system. Lowering standards required for technical skills just make the outlook more bleak.

      • Sam

        As far as I recall it was previously possible (pre ’95) to get an N3 at a state sponsored Technical school?

  • Loman

    I’m so proud of our town’s high school. Their pass rate is up 200% from last year. But last year 1 matric passed and this year 3 passed out of 26. So even though the numbers are up, its still crap. When will they accept that they made it worse, not better.

  • Rolihlahla Melitafa

    This is one dump, ignorant and sorry article as the 75.8% is not for the 1M+ pupils but of the 600k+ which whom wrote the exams… Along the way pupils did drop out and some passed away, does that mean they too must return and write theirs exams so to suit a 100% or 1M+ pupils? Dump…

  • OldRedNed

    Hi Businesstech, interesting table of Matric pass rate history. To make it more meaningful, will you publish the minimum requirements to obtain the National Senior Certificate for each year? Also, will you please publish the Matric pass rate history for 1974-1994.

  • Leonard Samuels

    I must admit that I read some valid and also interesting comments regarding the matric pass-rate. I am not responding to anyone’s comments or responses, but would appreciate some comments regarding the following:

    Our country is moving in the right direction when it come to education, but I have a few concerns wrt claims of success rate and percentages and so on. (Please keep in mind that the pass mark has been dropped for the class of 2013, and that resulted in a not so true reflection of what the overall pass-rate percentage should have been). Some of the class of 2013 are struggling, dropped out, and also failed to complete their first year of tertiary education (maybe someone should research that), due to the fact that they cannot cope with the higher level of performance required, or they are not adequately equipped for it. Do we regard this as a step in the right direction, or are we just fooling ourselves in believing that we are moving in the right direction wrt the education of our children. We are strong supporters of our government, and want them to be acknowledged as moving our education in the right direction (claiming success), as well as really giving our children a solid base for the next step of their education, but is that a true reflection of what’s really happening?

    Our children are not “dumb” or “stupid”. All they want is a realistic opportunity to further their education.

    • Loman

      Our current education system is a joke.
      It was designed to improve the pass rate.

      That is why those that want to go to college etc is often told that they need Maths (for example) and not the crap math literacy.

      Math literacy was invented so that 42% would not fail at maths.

      • Leonard Samuels

        I fully agree with what you are saying. We are turning a blind eye to the inefficiency of the current education department. Just wait for their next excuse “OUR CURRENT FAILURE AFTER 20 YEARS OF DEMOCRACY IS A RESULT OF APARTHEID”

        • Loman

          Spot on.

    • OldRedNed

      What we see in South Africa’s educational system is a mere facet of degenerate government. Look around…..almost every government administration is at some stage of terminal decay. Those rare islands of excellence that remain, like SARS, sooner or later attract the attention of ANC hierarchy and are stripped of their competent leadership – leadership which often carry a paler skin.

      South Africa cries out for leadership – leadership free of tribalism, leadership that governs by results and not by excuses. Leadership that is honest and accountable. Will we ever see it? Will our children ever see it? Can we look to any African State and say “Follow their star”. Sadly, no.

      But there is hope on the horizon – for some. Within 20 years, perhaps a lot sooner, we may expect to live under a Chinese regime. A regime where corruption and non-compliance often attract severe or even terminal punishment. A regime where hard work and competence is a way of life and Trade Unions are not. A regime that fosters its young in educational excellence. And when the Chinese arrive, our majority population will weep over their squandered ‘freedom’.

      Bring it on………just bring it on.

  • Blaq

    Are you also taking into consideration those that goes to Technical Colleges to study their N1, N2 and N3 (equivalent to matric); or people that have died; which hopefully is not that higher number?

  • Blaq

    since my post seems to be deleted – are you also including the pupils that have opted for Technical Colleges or that are no longer with us?

  • Langjan

    The key to a better new SA is education; however, it will need to be real. Window dressing will not do the trick.

  • Hano Lourens

    At the end of the day these low education standards wont get these young people jobs! I am an employer in the Engineering and manufacturing industry and every day I deal with problems which are directly related with poor education.The majority of matriculants are unemployable! The current education brought to us by the ANC is delivering bad products.Take for instance artisans,where are they.There are almost no young useful and qualified artisans available.Those who are available are useless.Most businesses in the private sector will welcome any useful qualified artisans. My facts are based on everyday personal experience!
    The ANC can cheat with the education system for as long as they want to, but then they must be prepared for less employment opportunities for young people.

  • Emil

    This can not be all the subjects, there are 28 of them and the average come to 88.6% not the 75.8% they claim so they left the worst ones off the list

  • The corrector

    some of the learners who did not write the ”NSC” exam might have moved abroad, or maybe some might have taken the FET college route.looking at the number of leaners who enrolled for grade 1 in 2003 does not tell the full story, there are many factors to consider.

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