SA’s ‘real’ matric pass rate: 42%

 ·5 Jan 2015

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

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