Covid-19 to blame for drop in South Africa’s school marks: department

Despite the drop in the National Senior Certificate (NSC) pass rate for last year, the class of 2020 exceeded expectations, says the Department of Basic Education (DBE)

Presenting to parliament on Tuesday (2 March), the department said that all indications point to the fact that the matric lass of 2020 would have outperformed the class of 2019 had it been a normal academic year.

This is based on analyses which were conducted on the Grade 10 and Grade 11 results of both cohorts, it said.

In its presentation, the department said that the Grade 12 Class of 2020 outperformed its predecessor – the class of 2019 – during their Grade 10 and Grade 11 years in subjects like home language, accounting, physical sciences, geography, history, tourism, life sciences, mathematical literacy, and mathematics.

The DBE said it attempted to insulate the Grade 12 learners, and this has produced a very encouraging outcome.

However, the loss of teaching and learning cannot be fully recovered. A total of 1,054,321 candidates registered for the 2020 NSC examinations, making it the largest the country has ever undertaken.

The class of 2020 received an overall National Senior Certificate (NSC) pass rate of 76.2%, a drop of 5.1 percentage points from 2019.

The number of bachelor passes – which qualify entry into universities – were slightly down for the 2020 cohort at 36.4%, compared to the 2019 cohort of 36.9%.


Despite the difficult learning environment, the department has faced criticism from opposition parties for the perceived decline in the state of the country’s education system.

The DA said the ‘real’ matric pass rate is 44.1% – calculated by comparing the number of learners that enrolled in 2018, which was 997,872, to the number that wrote (578,468) and passed Matric in 2020, 440,702 learners.

This group of Matrics started with 1,072,993 learners enrolled in 2009 as Grade 1s, which calculates to a pass rate of 41%.

The party added that the Accounting, Mathematics and Physical Sciences pass rates have all decreased, with Physical Sciences declining by 10 percentage points.

The serious concerns plaguing the South African basic education system will never be addressed if the department continues to try and bury the truth of their ineptitude, the DA said.

“This pass rate is disappointing and indicative of the chaotic nature of the 2020 academic year, coupled with the historic challenge of South Africa’s extraordinarily high drop-out rate.”

The DA criticised the overburdened curriculum, a lack of infrastructure, and inadequate support for teachers.

“These are not problems that arose with the Covid-19 pandemic. These problems have been ignored for years in favour of whitewashing matric results to mask the severe systemic failures of the Department of Basic Education.

“Yet, in spite of many challenges, countless teachers stepped up and went the extra mile for their learners during this period. They have done wonders in an effort to ensure that each and every child still received a quality education, and the DA commends them for their service.”

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Covid-19 to blame for drop in South Africa’s school marks: department