Matric results: celebrating mediocrity

 ·7 Jan 2014

The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) joined a chorus of concern over the quality of the matric certificate in South Africa.

The 2013 matric pass rate reached 78.2%, up from 73.9 % in 2012, with President Jacob Zuma hailing the significant improvement as the highest since the dawn of freedom and democracy. “This is the best Matric Class since 1994,” he said.

In 12 main subjects, the matric class of 2013 achieved 67,855 distinctions, up from 55,650 the previous year.

“Education will take this country to prosperity which is why it is one of government’s five key priorities. We are therefore pleased to note this consistently upward trend in the matric results, with the pass rate going from 62.6% in 2008, dipping to 60.6% in 2009 only to rise to 67.8% in 2010, 70.2% in 2011 and 73.9% in 2012,” Zuma said.

Quality over quantity

CEO of Sacci, Neren Rau said in a statement on Tuesday (7 January), that he remains concerned over the quality of the Matric certificate owing to the relatively low pass requirements.

“The Matric certificate should be a fundamental signal to the labour market that a school leaver can perform in at least a low-skilled position. Sadly this is no longer the case given a growing body of evidence of ill-equipped school leavers as reported by the business community.

“Periodical international comparisons have also shown that the standard of public education in South Africa is extremely poor, so merely raising the pass requirements is not enough. More needs to be done to ensure that qualified teachers are supported and on the job throughout the year and that the syllabus content is of a high standard.

Sacci called on the Department of Basic Education to raise the pass requirement for Matric, but also to introduce national exams at grade 7 and 10 whose results will also be made public.

Leading a chorus

And while the Democratic Alliance congratulated all matrics who passed the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations, it also expressed concern over the credibility of the results.

The political party said that using the pass rate as the main yardstick to assess performance is simply not a credible measure of the quality of education.

“The problem with focusing on the pass rate is that it does not take into consideration the number of students who drop out of the system before they write the National Senior Certificate examinations,” the DA said.

“Focusing on the pass rate also masks other crucial indicators of learner performance such as the number qualifying for tertiary education, the quality of passes and the number of maths and science passes,” it said.


Cope described the quality of South African school education as mediocre. “We have leaders who are way out of their depth and have absolutely no qualms about celebrating mediocrity,” said Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota in a statement.

He said that many of the matric certificates were not worth the paper they were written on. “Many of the students who have supposedly passed matric will battle to find employment or gain admission to a tertiary institution.

Unions respond

AfriForum said that if one compares the number of learners who enrolled in Grade 1 in 2002 and successfully completed Grade 12 in 2013, the actual pass rate is less than 38%.

Similarly, trade union Solidarity expressed concern over the number of pupils who get from grade one to matric.

Of the 1.2 million pupils in grade one in 2002, 34%, (about 408,000) went on to pass matric, Paul Joubert, senior economic researcher at the Solidarity Research Institute, said.

One reason for the drop in numbers was “culling”, where weak pupils in Grade 11 are prevented from going on to matric to boost pass rates.

According to Joubert, the biggest problems in the school system were pupils’ unsatisfactory language skills, including comprehension, and numeracy skills.

In 2013, only 2% of the grade nines achieved more than 50% in numeracy skills and only 17% achieved more than 50% in an additional language subject.

“These results show why so few pupils eventually pass matric. The big problem is not in the matric year, but in the school years prior to matriculation.”

The IFP Youth Brigade (IFPYB) also weighed in. National Chairperson, Mkhuleko Hlengwa MP, said: “We cannot ignore the grave realities confronting our education system in that 30% remains the baseline pass. Therefore, we cannot celebrate quantity at the expense of quality. We must, as a matter of urgency, rise above the fixation of percentages and aspire to achieve a qualitative pass.”

Hlengwa said that the 78.2% pass rate, in the face of the low standards of the education, at best gives the country a ‘feel-good’ syndrome that things are hunky-dory, whereas they are not.

“We are doing our future a major disservice by continuously resisting quality education. Our education system needs a serious overhaul, and doing away with maths-literacy would be a good start,” Hlengwa said.

ANC praises ‘quality of passes’

The African National Congress welcomed the 2013 matric pass rate. “These results reflect an increase not only in the number of schools passing but also in the quality of passes,” spokesman Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.

“We are particularly pleased by the improvement in the key gateway subjects of mathematics and science.”

The ANC acknowledged that more work needed to be done. “While indeed these results are a cause for celebration, there is still much more work to be done. Our education system must ensure that no child is left behind in our quest to develop a knowledgeable and skilled citizenry,” Mthembu said.

– Reporting with Sapa

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