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Experts welcome matric pass rate increase but note 450,000 learners dropped out

Experts welcome matric pass rate increase but note 450,000 learners dropped out
Top achievers at the Department of Basic Education ministerial breakfast at the MTN Head Office in Johannesburg on 18 January 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Civil society groups and education experts said there were notable improvements in the 2023 matric results but more had to be done to help learners who didn’t make it through the system.

Reacting to the release of the 2023 matric results, education experts and civil society groups noted several improvements, especially in provinces that have struggled because of socioeconomic challenges, but said it was concerning that more than 450,000 learners who started Grade 1 with last year’s cohort of matrics didn’t make it to Grade 12.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga released the 2023 National Senior Certificate (NSC) results on Thursday in Johannesburg. The class of 2023 achieved a pass rate of 82.9%, up from 80.1% in 2022 and 76.4% in 2021.

Motshekga said, “When the class of 2023 enrolled for Grade 1 in 2012, they were 1.2 million. The [Department of Basic Education] database shows that 740,566 progressed from Grade 1 in 2012 to Grade 12 in 2023. This was the number of candidates that enrolled for the 2023 NSC exams in July 2023. However, in October 2023, 715,719 candidates enrolled for the 2023 NSC exams.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Matric class of 2023 beats the odds with record 82.9% pass rate — Angie Motshekga

Kristal Duncan-Williams, the project lead at Youth Capital, a campaign advocating for evidence-based solutions to youth unemployment, said, “Our matric pass rate should be celebrated because we know that young people face many systemic challenges on their journey from Grade 1 to Grade 12, and the fact that they make it despite these challenges in an education system where in many provinces fails them.”

She pointed out that around 40% of those who started Grade 1 in 2012 hadn’t enrolled for the 2023 NSC exams.

“Young people are missing from this picture; what happened to the other 40%? What support would they have needed to complete? And for those who didn’t make it to write or those that didn’t pass now, what is in place for them?”

Duncan-Williams said there was a need to create monitoring systems that can detect potential dropouts and prevent scholars from dropping out. She said providing psychosocial and academic support to pupils detected through these monitoring systems would keep learners engaged and re-engage those who had fallen through the cracks.

Motshekga briefly addressed the issue in her speech.

“These days, children repeat less, are less likely to be in school into their twenties, but most important of all, they are much more likely to successfully complete a National Senior Certificate, or an equivalent qualification. We, therefore, can confidently conclude that, over the years, we are steadily improving learner retention and the throughput ratio in the system,” she said.

Merle Mansfield, the programme director for the Zero Dropout Campaign, said, “We note the 2% pass rate increase and congratulate the class of 2023. However, this year there was once again a drastic decline in the number of learners enrolled between the matriculating classes starting Grade 1 and progression through the schooling system. The class of 2023 also had approximately 40,000 fewer learners enrolled in matric than the previous year’s cohort. 

 “Unfortunately, the DBE only alluded to the throughput rate in their announcement, so until they are more candid with the public about the state of throughput and dropout, we cannot know whether 2023 was an anomaly, something to celebrate or the beginning of a new worrying trend.”  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Matric dropouts — Department of Basic Education doth protest too much

The DA’s shadow minister of basic education, Baxolile Nodada, claimed in a statement, “The real matric pass rate is only 55.3%, an increase from last year’s 54.6%.”

Nodada said the “real pass rate” should factor in learners who dropped out after Grade 9.

“While some learners pursue their matric through technical and vocational education and training (TVET) after Grade 9, a large number drop out completely. To bring the TVET learners into account, the DA calculates the real matric pass rate from the Grade 10 cohort that ought to have completed matric; 345,626 learners dropped out between Grade 10 in 2021 and Grade 12 in 2023.”

Significant improvement

Education expert Mary Metcalfe noted that there was a significant improvement in the overall pass rate, in the percentage of learners achieving a bachelor pass, and in the percentage of those passing maths.  

Metcalfe said KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Eastern Cape had improved in overall passes and bachelor passes. She described Free State, Western Cape, Gauteng and Mpumalanga as “stable”.

“There is now a narrower range between provinces. While there was a gap [in the pass rate] of 20 percentage points in 2022, it is now only 14 percentage points,” she said

Commenting on the improvements, Motshekga highlighted the intersection of education, socioeconomic and psychosocial factors, saying the gains were due to a “pro-poor” policy stance that provided learners with food, uniforms, stationery and transport.

Concerns over irregularities

The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) released a statement on Thursday congratulating matriculants “on an impressive 82.9% pass! The dedication and hard work of learners and teachers have undoubtedly contributed to the improvement in pass rates.” 

The organisation said teachers should be congratulated as they put in extra hours and sometimes worked in difficult conditions. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Umalusi matric irregularities findings — group copying, errors in exam papers heighten concerns

“Naptosa is, however, deeply concerned about the cases of cheating within the examination process and reports circulating regarding the issuing of fake matric certificates. The integrity of the assessment system is paramount, and such instances of dishonesty undermine the hard work and dedication of honest individuals.

“Considering these issues, Naptosa urges authorities to take swift action against all parties involved in cases of cheating, and the creation and distribution of counterfeit certificates. This will serve as a deterrent to others and reaffirm the importance of maintaining the integrity of the National Senior Certificate.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • J vN says:

    Amazing improvement. The kids are really getting cleverer with every passing year. At this rate of improvement, the pass rate will exceed 100% in just seven years. This tremendous growth in intelligence also came from a class whose schooling career got interrupted in 2020 due to Covid.

    One would almost think that this incredible achievement was due to 2024 being an election year…

  • Coen Gous says:

    If 450,000 students dropped out beforehand, does this pass rate mean anything at all?

  • Erns Labuschagne says:

    The sad news is that 30% for a subject is seen as pass. If the exam pass rate is increased to 40 or 50%, the real pass rate for matrics will probably drop to less than 50%. We are setting these young people up for failure.

    • Gerrie Pretorius says:

      That’s exactly what the anc wants – a population without proper education. Means there won’t be new jobs created. Means they can continue buying votes with grants.

    • jason du toit says:

      to pass matric you need 30% in 3 subjects, and 40% in 3 subjects. about 25% passed with a mark of 50% or higher.

  • Chris Orr says:

    Are there going to be jobs for all these people?

  • John P says:

    One wonders what was the average pass mark percentage is seeing as the basic requirement is only 40% for home language & 1 other and 30% each for an further 4 subjects.

  • Brian Doyle says:

    The worrying factors about this pass rate are(a) Nearly 20% did not pass (b) The dropout numbers are not factored into the pass rate-which it should as this shows the true reflection of the education systems effectiveness and (c) The percentage of those who have not achieved a bachelor pass, as these are pupils who will battle to find jobs due to the sub standard pass rates which the Minister of Education has allowed-A Pupil with a 33% pass rate in reality has not achieved anything and when you add these numbers to the drop outs our unemployment rate just increases

  • Roland Gemmell says:

    I failed my prelims in 1971 as I got 33% for maths and not the required 33 1/3%.
    30% type pass rate is nothing new – it has been around for over 50 years!!!

  • Steve Price says:

    Matric is a pantomime for politicians promoting themselves. Allthe schooling system needs is a solid primary school 3R’s education which allows pupils to carry on in life and be trainable or teach themselves and proper facilities for sport and to provide what systems for health eg vaccination and sex education and nutrition eg a glass of milk a day it can Vastly more educational money should go in to technical education Many successful people have had little more and sometimes less than that. Half of Africa does better than SA even Zimbabwe. That’s why African migrants are more employable A small percentage alteration in the grade 12 pass rate means nothing when you look at what they are trying to pass and the low grade drop out rate is far more important. Handing out useless certificates creates a new generation of disillusioned unemployable youth ripe for crime and gangs. Are commentators like JvN useful idiots or part of the ANC propaganda machine ? As for the reporter I know dearie you are supposed to give all sides of the story but congratulations on promoting even more confusion with all those figures. Just what the ANC wants especially in an election year

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