Our matric results don't add up

David Bullard asks how an age cohort that couldn't read for meaning in Grade 4 can pass national exams eight years later


Last week the country’s matric results were announced and it seems that we have nothing to worry about. Despite what the scoffing naysayers may claim the future of South Africa looks decidedly bright.

With a 82.9% pass rate for the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations it appears that we are blessed with an abundance of highly intelligent children, many of whom will inevitably go on to do great things at university.

Other countries must be green with envy. In fact, the only problem facing SA is that we may have far too many highly intelligent citizens and not enough challenging jobs to go round. But this may only be a temporary problem because other nations will naturally want to tap into our talent pool and super intelligent South African mini Einsteins could soon be holding high positions of great responsibility all over the world.___STEADY_PAYWALL___

That the latest pass rate is the highest in the history of the NSC so far is even more cause for joy and celebrations. Pres Frogboiler was quick to congratulate the matriculants saying they had made the country proud and that, despite the COVID challenges, they had shown resilience and commitment.

He did acknowledge that a couple of the problems to be solved were getting them all into university and then into jobs but…hey…. where there’s a will there’s a way.

An added bonus to having so many highly intelligent young people in the economy is that it will no longer be necessary to fake a claim to have a doctorate from the London School of Economics in order to get a board position or become a Presidential adviser.

With an election looming within a few months, what better news could the country receive than to know that the education system devised and managed by the ruling ANC is firing on all cylinders and could soon be the envy of the world?

While I was popping the Bollinger and lighting up a Cuban robusto to celebrate this magnificent news I had a nagging feeling that something didn’t quite add up. So I did a bit of delving and found an article on News24 dated 16th May 2023 saying that a staggering 81% of Grade 4 (aged 9-10) pupils in South Africa can’t read for meaning.

Since this was a global study covering forty countries which is conducted every five years under the auspices of the ‘Progress in International Reading Literacy Study’ (PIRLS) it looked genuine. But in these days of fake news you can’t be too sure and it’s possible that a colonialist organisation with a racist agenda might be spreading nasty rumours about our beautiful land. However, since the Department of Basic Education released the findings one must assume they are trustworthy.

This survey was completed last year and so the ten year olds wouldn’t have been writing matric last year. They still have a few years to hone their reading skills. However the same May 2023 News24 article revealed that a 2016 study found that 78% of South African children in Grade 4 could not read for meaning in any language. Apparently all eleven official languages were used in that particular assessment.

South Africa has, with the full support of the Department of Basic Education, participated in four PIRLS assessments since 2006. Back then it was found that only 13% of Grade 4’s could read for meaning so I guess the 2023 figure of 19% being able to read for meaning should be seen as a giant leap forward. Unless you measure it against the 2016 literacy figure of 22% that is.

However you look at it, the number of Grade 4’s unable to read for meaning is historically dismal; particularly when you consider that Mozart wrote his first complete opera at age eleven with a libretto in Latin (doubters say that it was his Dad’s work but they would wouldn’t they?)

So what are we supposed to believe happened with the record number of matric passes in 2023? Did a large percentage of the whole matric cohort suddenly learn to read for meaning? Or did all the Grade 4’s that didn’t manage to read for meaning drop out of the education system leaving only the literates to sit the exam?

Since 897 775 ‘learners’ sat the matric exam that seems extremely unlikely. With a pass rate of 82.9% that is approximately 745 000 matric passes out of the original field. Given a best case scenario of a literacy rate of 22% that would further mean that the original field should have been roughly 4 million learners (78% assumed unable to read for meaning and therefore unable to sit matric) which seems highly improbable given the population of the country.

In a nutshell then: how likely is it that 81% of the school going population are unable to read for meaning in Grade 4 but by Grade 10 are sufficiently literate to be able to sit matric?

So, assuming that those who sat matric could read for meaning either the PIRLS assessments are complete nonsense or the matric pass rate has been manipulated. My guess is the latter.

Without wishing to take anything away from those students who studied hard and passed with distinctions the numbers simply don’t add up. The obvious conclusion is that the pass standard of the NSC exam has been conveniently dropped over the years to make the government look good.

This is a cruel trick played by the ANC on the younger generation who will soon realise that their matric pass and even their distinctions have been sufficiently devalued so as to become worthless. Much the same will apply to their university degrees sadly as diversity, inclusivity and equity nutters insist on enrolling and passing students based on political expediency rather than merit.

The days when a graduate could find employment in the global marketplace armed with a prestigious UCT degree are long gone thanks to wokism and extremely dubious vice chancellor appointments over the years. Unfortunately setting fire to a building or pulling down the statue of a coloniser is not a skill set much in demand by the world’s top corporates.

Obviously the ANC will pursue their usual strategy of lie and deny in this matter and will no doubt resort to accusations of ‘racism’ for all those who dare question the veracity of the matric pass claims. And who knows…. I could be horribly wrong about all this.

In which case we can look forward to a dramatic drop in the youth unemployment numbers which is the best news the latest crop of matriculants could have.

Providing, of course, that the ANC are as successful in rejuvenating the economy as they have been in rejuvenating the education system.


At least four senior defence and military experts have warned the EU that NATO and European countries should start preparing for war with

Russia. According to Admiral Rob Bauer, a Dutch naval officer who is chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, Europeans should prepare themselves for ‘all out war’ with Russia within the next twenty years.

Sweden’s defence minister recently urged Swedish citizens to brace for war ahead of the country formally joining NATO. This has led to a surge in volunteers for the country’s civil defence organisation and a spike in sales of torches and battery-powered radios. So at least the Swedes will still be able to listen to ABBA should the Russkies invade.

Germany’s Defence Minister Boris Pistorius is even more gloomy (or realistic) reckoning that Putin could launch an attack within the next decade. Even UK Defence Minister Grant Schapps has said that the UK needs to be prepared for war. None of this would be quite so worrying had not most of the NATO countries reduced defence spending over the last few decades on the basis of there being no wars to fight on home turf.

In 1990 the UK had 308 000 military personnel (presumably not all combatants) but by early 2023 the combined number of trained military personnel from the Navy, Air Force and Army was down to 134 000 with 75 980 coming from the Army. Russia’s equivalent figure is thought to be around 1.1 million.

The even greater problem though is armaments. After Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago in what was supposed to be a two week ‘military exercise’ NATO countries very generously donated huge amounts of weapons to Ukraine but refrained from putting boots on the ground in what became a proxy war. This has surely led to a huge shortage of NATO weapons which was presumably part of Putin’s intention in the first place.

Since Vlad is going to be 72 this year there is an element of urgency as far as finishing the job is concerned. I doubt whether he can afford to wait ten or twenty years for ‘all-out war’. Besides, that would give NATO and the EU time to re-arm. My guess is war within the next two years but if it knocks climate change, the Middle East, cancel culture, migrant problems and transgender rights off the front pages of the world’s newspapers then that has to be some consolation.