The department of education has announced the matric pass rate for 2016: 72.5% – 1.8 percentage points higher than in 2015.
The latest matric results bucks the downward trend seen in the past couple of years, and continues to hold the reported matric pass rate above the 70% level reached in 2011.
2014’s drop of 2.4 percentage points in the rate marked the first time in the Jacob Zuma presidency that the matric pass rate saw a decline. This was followed by a 5 percentage point drop in 2015.
The matric pass rate showed a near miraculous increase under the Zuma leadership – hitting an all-time high of 78.2% in 2013 – a situation which has sent alarm bells ringing among academics, who claim to have not seen any real improvement in the quality of South African education over time.
Below is a graph showing the reported matric pass rates between 1995 and 2016.
In 2014, university professors called the whole concept of a matric pass rate “an illusion and a farce”, because it simply does not reflect anything of real substance in academic performance.
The department of education itself has distanced itself from the matric pass rate as a measure or indication of achievement in the 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,” the department said.
Activist group, Equal Education, has again echoed this sentiment, saying that focus on the matric pass rate detracts from real problems in education in South Africa, by placing the emphasis on the ‘end-game’ of education, rather than ensuring learners are being educated every step of the way.
Aside from hiding the contrasting results between urban and poorer rural schools, broad pass rate reporting is misleading (ignoring the country’s massive drop out rates) and is largely superficial (easily ‘gamed’ by teachers), EE said.
According to critics, greater emphasis and funding should be placed on early childhood development, and equipping learners with the right tools (books, study material, skilled teachers), to ensure more students who start school, actually make it through to the finish.