Matric 2013: are 78% of pupils

Matric 2013: are 78% of pupils truly ready to leave school?

Hesitant cheer among adults has greeted jubilation among school-leavers: South Africa’s 2013 report card is the best since 1994. But what does having a Matric pass really mean?

Matric 2013: are 78% of pupils


President Jacob Zuma congratulated Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on the best Matric class since the end of Apartheid this week as the government announced the country’s highest-ever pass rate.

An unprecedented 78.2 per cent of those who sat exams for the National Senior Certificate – colloquially still known as the Matriculation examination – passed.

No one, not even the state, has argued that these results mean the education system is fixed. At most, the South African government has congratulated itself on a modest but sustained improvement from the disaster Motshekga inherited in 2009, when 60,6 per cent passed.

However, South African parents’ commonplace criticism that the passing mark is too low have caused some to call the quality of the results in question. Students in South Africa need obtain only a 40 per cent passing mark in a primary and secondary language and in mathematics to pass; for all other subjects, knowing only 30 per cent of the content examined suffices. Big business and universities have long held that this preparation is desperately inadequate to the needs of South Africa’s sophisticated economy, dominated by services, and to higher study at the continent’s best universities.

In addition, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has questioned the neutrality of the results. The DA contends that, because Matric marks are adjusted, the process should be overseen by an independent body. The DA has repeatedly called for the competency of markers to be tested as recommended by Umalusi, the national skills authority.

The only provincial education authority the party runs, that of the Western Cape, this year fell in the rankings with a surprise leap by Free State and the North West to first and second place, respectively. The two upstart provinces earned 87.4 and 87.2 per cent pass rates.

For 78 per cent of pupils – including a record number in the nation’s perennial worst performer, the Eastern Cape – the celebrations have begun. Many excellent and historic schools that could well afford the move to Independent Examination Board exams remain on the State system; many rural schools have achieved excellence against the odds, and the examinations have been declared broadly free, fair and credible.

Yet the chilling fact is that the 78 per cent who passed Matric are just a third of those who started Grade 1 with our rightly elated new graduands, twelve or more years ago. Somewhere in South Africa, two thirds of what should have been the class of 2013 are making some sort of a living, inside or outside the formal economy. To shepherd the lost two-thirds of today’s Grade 1s to Matric in 2025, is going to take much more effort sustained from universal pre-primary schooling through to extra classes and more remedial help in the higher grades. Then, perhaps, we will have something everyone can celebrate.

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