Several organisations, cautiously welcoming the outcome of the 2015 National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations, are nevertheless calling for closer scrutiny of the nation’s persistent economic disparities, which lead to high dropout rates and learner success being highly skewed in favour of richer, better resourced provinces.
Proponents this week agreed that the 2015 results revealed “structural imbalances” in need of reform and that economic inequality required “honest reflection and introspection”, particularly considering that only two out of every five Grade 10 learners in 2013 wrote their final exams in 2015.
This week, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga revealed an overall NSC pass rate of 70.7%, or 455 825 of the 665 000-odd matric candidates for the year – a decline from the overall pass rate of 75.8% in the preceding year, but an increase on the 403 874 of the 532 860 students that had passed in 2014.
The national pass rate would have been 74.1% had it excluded the 65 671 progressed learners – students who were “promoted” after repeating Grade 11 more than once.
“The pass rate captures only the per cent of learners who have written the test [and] who have met minimum requirements. This fails to account for learners who never make it to matric and for variation in quality of performance among those who pass the test,” Equal Education added on Wednesday.
Of the 1.3-million learners enrolling for Grade 1 in public schools in 2004, just over half sat down for their final basic education examinations in 2015.
“If one were to compare the number of learners who enrolled for Grade 1 in 2004 to the number who passed matric in 2015, the actual pass rate amounts to less than 36%,” added AfriForum deputy CEO Alana Bailey.
Statistics released by Equal Education showed a dropout rate of 41.71% between Grades 10 and 12 alone, with over 478 000 learners falling through the cracks.
Democratic Alliance Basic Education Shadow Minister Gavin Davis said a candid and objective assessment was required to implement measures to correct the course of what he deemed a “highly unequal education system” that was failing millions of poor children in several parts of the country.
“The challenges that engulf the education sector in South Africa must be confronted head on as they have a huge potential to derail our goals as a country,” added the Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA), agreeing that the contributing factors to the overall pass rate decline must be investigated and fixed “as a matter of urgency”.
AfriForum encouraged the promotion of targeted measures that would guarantee quality education and mitigate specific challenges, including the lack of mother-language education, inadequate teacher training opportunities, dysfunctional schools and inefficient curriculum options, besides others.
“We cannot ignore the failures of a standardised approach to teaching, learning and assessment linked to socioeconomic factors,” the South African Democratic Teachers Unions (Sadtu) explained, pointing out the importance of prioritising the development of African indigenous languages into teaching and learning.
Meanwhile, Davis pointed out that a child’s scholastic success was still determined by the province they were educated in.
“We are very worried that rural provinces continue not to do well. The Eastern Cape is in the 50% range, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal are in the 60% range, while Mpumalanga is in the 70% range. We call on the Minister to provide all the necessary and required resources to deal with this dire situation,” the YCLSA stated.
The Eastern Cape achieved an overall pass rate of 56.8% in 2015, a drop from 65.4% in 2014, while the pass rate in KwaZulu-Natal declined to 60.7%, from 69.7% in 2014.
Limpopo and the Northern Cape also posted decreases in the overall pass rate for the year, falling from 72.9% and 76.4% respectively in 2014 to 65.9% and 69.4% in 2015.
Mpumalanga achieved a 78.6% pass rate, with the North West and Free State claiming pass rates of 81.5% and 81.6% respectively.
Gauteng’s matric pass rate reached 84.2%, with Western Cape securing the top spot with an 84.7% pass rate – an improvement of 2.5% on the preceding year.
The lowest ranking provinces were largely rural and among the poorest in the country.
“What this trend signifies is what we have always maintained - that socioeconomic factors play a key role in determining outcomes,” Sadtu said.
“If we are to improve the matric results across the board, we need to look at what the best performing provinces are doing right and what the worst performers are doing wrong,” Davis noted.
Portfolio Committee on Basic Education chairperson Nomalungelo Gina acknowledged the need for targeted intervention for rural provinces.
“Particular focus should be given to the Eastern Cape so as to improve the 56% attained this year. The committee is aware of the challenges of infrastructure in the province but this administration will continue providing support to all rural provinces,” she said.