South Africa’s ‘30%’ matric pass mark controversy – this is how the system works

 ·11 Jan 2023

Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga has again moved to counter the idea in South Africa that the country’s pass mark for the National Senior Certificate is 30%.

The minister this week said that the “30% pass mark” is a myth that gets perpetuated each year, adding that no such single pass mark exists.

In previous years, the department explained that outrage is often expressed over the fact that the lowest possible pass mark per subject is 30% – however, it said that proponents of the narrative ignore that no candidate can obtain a National Senior Certificate if they pass all seven subjects at 30%.

Learners must pass at least three subjects at 40%, it said.

The department said in 2022 that it is aware of arguments that raising this threshold to 50% would improve the education system; however, it said that this change would not be made as the system aims to encourage ‘different levels of achievement’.

“The 2014 ministerial committee, which recommended several changes to the National Senior Certificate, many of which have been followed through, did not recommend changing the lowest threshold. It is acceptable assessment practice to ensure that provision is made for different levels of achievement. All education systems have different levels of passes, not just one pass mark.”

Pass marks

South Africans can qualify for three different passes – a Bachelor’s pass, a Diploma pass, and a Certificate pass.

Bachelor’s pass

A bachelor’s pass means you can apply for a degree course at a university or university of technology and can study for a higher certificate, diploma or bachelor’s degree.

To achieve a bachelor’s pass, you must:

  • Pass 6 of 7 subjects
  • At least 50% in four subjects
  • At least 40% in Home Language
  • At least 30% in the Language of Learning and Teaching (LOLT)
  • At least 30% for one other subject

It should be noted that even if a student has achieved a bachelor’s pass, they do not automatically qualify for a university position.

Diploma pass

A diploma pass requires 40% in four higher credit subjects, 30% in three lower credit subjects, and you may fail one subject.

With this pass, you can enrol for a bridging course at a Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college or a diploma course at a university of technology.

To receive a diploma pass, a student must:

  • Pass 6 of 7 subjects
  • At least 40% in four subjects
  • At least 40% in Home Language
  • At least 30% in the Language of Learning and Teaching (LOLT)

Certificate pass

A certificate pass requires a 40% pass in your home language, 2 subjects above 40%, 4 subjects above 30% and you may fail 1 subject. This pass allows you to study for a higher certificate.

  • Pass 6 out of 7 subjects
  • At least 40% in Home Language
  • At least 40% in two other subjects
  • At least 30% for four other subjects

This gives learners access to different levels of tertiary education and doesn’t rely on one pass mark across the board.

“Hence it needs to be understood that candidates scoring 30% in most of their subjects will not qualify for admission to a Higher Education Institution. However, not all learners are expected to qualify for Higher Education admission,” the department said.

Motshekga’s response comes after former Democratic Alliance leader and current Build One SA leader, Mmusi Maimane, criticised the country’s education system this week, saying that the 30% pass mark was a deception and that candidates should only be granted a matric certificate if they got 50% or higher.

Maimane said that politicians used the low threshold to boost pass rate numbers and, in doing so, avoid accountability.

“We must reject the notion that 30% is a pass, reject a national results announcement based on that mark and then hold the ministry accountable,” he said.

Even taking into account the fact that three subjects need to be passed at 40%, Maimaine said that this makes the average 35%, which is not any better. He said learners should pass six subjects above 50% to qualify for an NSC.

The department will announce the 2022 matric exam results on 19 January 2023, with the individual marks being distributed to matriculants from 20 January.

Read: Here is the school calendar for 2023 – and when to expect the matric results

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