The "real" matric pass rate
The DA announced on Tuesday that its leader, Helen Zille, would be writing to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga requesting an independent audit of the 2013 National Senior Certificate results.
While the celebratory mood continues due to the 78.24% national pass rate, we need to take a hard look at how this high percentage was achieved, and if it is a credible yardstick that can be used to rate the health of our education system.
Our concerns stem from the following:
According to publicly available figures if a calculation is done by dividing the number of learners who passed matric over the number of Grade 10 learners who attended public schools in 2011, the "real" national pass rate works out to 41.7% rather than 78.24%. This drastically changes the "real" pass rates for provinces as follows: Western Cape, 55.3%; Gauteng, 49.4%; KwaZulu Natal, 44.8%; Mpumalanga, 41.9%; Free State, 39.5%; North West, 38%; Northern Cape, 36.6%; Limpopo, 34.1%; and Eastern Cape, 32.3%.
It is worrying that both the Free State and the North West, which scored pass rates of 87.4% and 87.2% have high dropout rates. According to a report, a massive 56.5% of learners in the North West and 54.8% in the Free State dropped out between Grade 10 and 12. The question that arises is, are provinces deliberately ignoring the problem of high dropout rates in an effort to "up" their matric pass rates?
The Western Cape is noted to have the lowest dropout rate, followed by KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng. According to the Western Cape Education Department the retention of learners that pass matric exams improved significantly from 36.9% in 2009 to 52.1% in 2013. Western Cape matriculants also recorded the highest percentage of bachelor passes at 40.91% according to the Department of Basic Education.
The marks obtained by part-time candidates are not included in the pass mark announced by Minister Motshekga. For the past four years, the level of part-time candidacy represented approximately 13% of the total number of candidates.
In 2013, this percentage jumped, anomalously, to 18.5%. Why? Have principals actively encouraged learners to register as part-time candidates to ensure that the individual's results do not tarnish the school's record? (A comparison of capability between the average full-time and part-time learner can be obtained by comparing the pass rate for mathematics: 33.5% for part-time candidates and 59.1% for full-time.)
The percentage of learners taking mathematics (or, as learners call it, "real" maths) has declined steadily over the past five years, from 53% in 2009, to 45.3% in 2011 and to 42.9% in 2013. In the Western Cape however, the number of learners who wrote maths in 2013 increased to 16 676 from 15 387 in 2012. The province also recorded a pass rate of 73.3%.
The celebrated pass rate of 78.2% does not reveal that, in underperforming provinces, a large chunk of the passes were achieved at a low level. In the Eastern Cape, 45% of learners passed with less than 60%, and in Limpopo the corresponding figure was 28%.
According to the 2013 matric exams National Diagnostic Report learners struggled to argue their ideas; had poor language competencies; poor mathematical skills; lacked basic knowledge of concepts and were unfamiliar with terminology for particular subjects; and it seemed that some learners were not exposed to relevant content in classes meaning the curriculum was not adhered to.
The 2013 Annual National Assessments indicated that approximately 3% of our Grade 9 learners are effectively numerate. The Grade 12 results show that 59.1% of learners writing mathematics passed. However, what the latter results do not show is that this number constitutes only 14.8% of all Grade 12s, and 6.6% of all 2002 Grade 1s.
In addition to all of the above, there have been (as yet, unsubstantiated) reports of artificially-inflated marks in certain provinces and in certain subjects, as well as incompetent matric markers.
The figures and facts above are a selection of those that show that education in South Africa is in trouble. We cannot continue to use of the matric pass rate as the major indicator of the health of the education system. We are concerned that learners' futures are being undermined to improve pass rates. The focus needs to be on improving retention rates and the quality of education offered. Our learners must be able to pass matric confidently, have a solid understanding of key concepts in various subject matter that will enable them to pursue higher education opportunities.
Unless we investigate the state of our National Senior Certificate, from aspects such as subject choice, to increasing retention, to improving the quality of education received, and ensuring accurate assessment, we will be failing every learner who gives of his or her best, and we will be failing South Africa, which relies on the education system to provide its much-needed skills.
Surely the process of verification or audit is a logical extension of the brief already given by Minister Motshekga to the Ministerial Committee concerning various qualitative measures of the NSC?
Urgent intervention is required.
Statement issued by Annette Lovemore MP, DA Shadow Minister of Basic Education, January 9 2013
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