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Matric results are a real sign of hope – and a tribute to Angie Motshekga, who has education of children in her heart

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Prof Michael le Cordeur is the Vice-Dean Teaching and Learning in the Education Faculty at the University of Stellenbosch.

There is no doubt that the education system is starting to stabilise. Not only is this healthy for a young democracy such as South Africa, but it provides hope for a country in which there is otherwise little to get excited about.

Prophets of doom

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world in March 2020, the prophets of doom expected the worst for education in this country. They did not, however, take into account the willpower of our country’s teachers, most of whom – we now know – still see their task as a calling.

The prophets of doom also did not take into account that our children have a vision for themselves and are doing everything they can to make it come true. They were even less aware of the resilience of our school communities who were not prepared to succumb to the pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has over the past two years revealed the shortcomings of education in this country. The crisis has forced us to prioritise aspects which have long been awaiting a resolution. It created opportunities to heal South Africa’s education of many defects. The matric pass rate of 76.4% is proof of this.

Low pass rate in perspective

Why the excitement about the improvement by 0.2% of the pass rate of the eighth class to write the examination under the CAPS curriculum?

First, it is nearly the same as in 2020 despite the fact that it is the second year that the class had to go to school under strict lockdown restrictions. Everyone expected that the pass rate in 2020 would be lower than in 2019, for it was the first year of the pandemic. But it was feared that after the second year of the pandemic, it could lead to a catastrophe. Thus the nearly exuberant relief over the slightly improved pass rate.

Upwards adjustment

There are two questions hanging over these results which I would like to address. The first is that nearly half the subjects were adjusted upwards. Some may wilfully argue that without these adjustments the pass rate would have been much lower. This may be true. But adjustments of marks in the school system are as old as education itself.

The Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training (Umalusi), which approved the results, has confirmed that 28 subjects were adjusted upwards. They include Afrikaans first/home language and second additional language, English first/home language, economics, physical science and accounting. The fact that it also applies to scarce subjects like engineering graphics, visual art, and mechanical and civil technology is an indication that the upwards adjustment was necessary at all schools, including former Model C schools.

Why?

This is the first class that has wrestled with the pandemic for two consecutive years. As a result, this class required more academic assistance. Worldwide it is a general practice to standardise results to avoid excessive variations owing to factors which are unrelated to pupils’ abilities and knowledge. A total of 35 subjects were left unchanged.

The 30% debate

The second point of contention is the so-called 30% debate. A pupil can pass matric at one of three levels. Each requires a specific combination of subjects and pass requirements, namely:

  1. To pass matric with the Higher Certificate the pupils must achieve at least 40% in the home/first language, as well as achieving 40% in TWO other subjects, passing at least six out of seven subjects and 30% in four other subjects. The matriculant will then be able to do a certificate course at a career college;   
  2. A pupil can pass matric with a diploma if at least 40% is achieved in the first/home language, as well as 40% in THREE other subjects, with at least 30% in the language of tuition of the higher education institution and passing at least six out of seven subjects. Such a pupil can take a diploma course at a career college or university of technology; or   
  3. A matriculant achieves a bachelor pass (previously matric exemption) if 40% is achieved in the first/home language, as well as 50% in FOUR other subjects (including life orientation), at least 30% in the higher education institution’s language of tuition, passing only ONE subject with 30% and passing six out of seven subjects. Such a pupil can do a degree course at any university. 

It is thus not only a matter of passing six subjects with 30%. I trust that parents and younger pupils will also take note of the importance of the home language. When a student applies to a university, the mark achieved in the home language is the first thing we look at.

Provinces

A close look at the different provinces brings many interesting perspectives to the fore. The most important is that the gap between rural and urban provinces is shrinking. This is the result of the continued intervention programme of the Department of Basic Education. With the exception of the Free State, which has set the tone for three years, provinces such as North West, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape (all hovering in the 70s) are closing the gap with the urban provinces, Gauteng and the Western Cape. The latter two remain constant and maintain a pass rate in the 80s while North West improves continuously.

We are overjoyed that the Eastern Cape’s improvement since last year has continued; and we applaud the Northern Cape, which showed the greatest improvement by 5.4%. It is clear that good administration in that province is bearing fruit. The only exception is Limpopo where the poverty issue is not yet under control. The department will have to intervene urgently. The province has shown a decrease for the second consecutive year.

Source: Professor Michael le Cordeur

Top 10 regions

The domination of the large cities of Gauteng (Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni) and Cape Town (Metropole North) continues, but it is gratifying that the upward curve in the rural areas is also visible here. All the districts of the Free State are in the top 10 and what a wonderful surprise that the two rural districts in the Western Cape (Eden in the Southern Cape and Central Karoo) are also among the top 10!

Acknowledgement

Maybe it is time that we give credit where it is due: a minister who – I believe – gives the education of our children priority in her heart. The class of 2021 was hard hit by the pandemic. Especially pupils in poorer areas had a tough struggle. Fighting a pandemic in the past two years leading up to your matric exam – and still passing matric the way this class did – is no small feat.

South Africa has triumphed over colonialism and apartheid. It now looks as if we can beat a pandemic. Angie Motshekga is not without flaws, but she has passed the most important tests. DM

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