Defend Truth


Brace yourself – it’s time for the annual matric results circus


Dr Louis Benjamin is an independent educational consultant. He is the author of the Basic Concepts Programme, which has been implemented across South Africa as well as in other countries to address learning backlogs of children from severely disadvantaged communities. He is a co-founder and board member of Thinking Schools South Africa (TSSA) and has served as the Vice President for Africa of the International Association for Cognitive Education and Psychology (IACEP).

The 2023 matric results will soon be announced and once again the education minister, her DG and education MECs will regale us with another astounding set of facts and figures that, I suspect, will show ‘the education system is strengthening’, and there will be clapping and cheering and parading of our ‘best’ in front of the nation.

Instead of basking in these fleeting moments of glory, it’s time to confront the glaring deficiencies of our education system and earnestly pursue avenues for improvement to prevent the tragic loss of human potential.

Yes, we do need to acknowledge and celebrate the successes of the few remarkable learners who have excelled against formidable odds, but what about the many learners who never reach matric?

Most are filtered out, or even culled, by a system that struggles to support them adequately.

Recent reports highlight the continuing decline in reading and comprehension levels among learners in South Africa.

Shockingly, 82% of Grade 4 learners cannot read with comprehension.

The prospects of these learners catching up, especially when the curriculum becomes more demanding, seem bleak.

Reading for meaning is undeniably the cornerstone of education and its neglect further exacerbates the pressure on the system.

The decreasing number of matriculants (28%) opting for mathematics, a foundational subject for scientific studies, also reflects an alarming trend.

This opinion piece does not aim to criticise the education system, but rather to caution readers against falling for the illusions of educational miracles conjured by the announcement gala event.

Speakers will avoid the most pressing concerns.

Metrics and talk about matric exam quality assurance might impress but do not capture the complete narrative of the system’s struggles and shortcomings.

This event marks the beginning of a new school year, but the euphoria it generates fades quickly, leaving education out of the public discourse for months.

I expect the educational commentators will do the necessary analyses to help us better understand the results, but many of the more detailed studies will take a bit longer to be published, by which point public attention on education will have waned.

So, what could the minister and her team do instead of the gala event?

Here are some off-the-cuff suggestions:

  • Give us a “State of the Nation” about educational progress at critical junctures in the system (Grades R, 3, 6, 9 and 12);
  • Speak about exciting educational innovations;
  • Tell us about the teachers and how we can better support and help them;
  • Outline how we could improve teacher content knowledge and enhance the language of instruction in all classrooms;
  • Share research about programmes that work and those that do not.

The minister might also incentivise researchers, teachers and academics to collaborate to improve the functioning of the system even in small-scale projects.

She might want to discuss how the Department of Education could work more efficiently, particularly under the current cost-cutting restrictions.

In summary, there should be more discussion around the overall basic education enterprise where matric is but one point (albeit a very important one) in a 12- to 15-year journey.

There is great potential for a reimagined national education event – one that candidly addresses the harsh realities that need attention while offering hope and direction for the year ahead.

It’s time for substantive change, not fleeting celebrations. DM

Matric results will be announced on 18 January.


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    I’ll believe that we have, as a country, decided to take education seriously when SADTU is disbanded.

  • Mike Hagemann says:

    Sadtu is the sticking point here. The union’s stranglehold on (black education) has meant that nepotism, cronyism and factionalism has scuppered the recruitment and training of management. In addition, SADTU shields it’s members from accountability – professional as well as personal. No school inspectors welcome. And then we add the school days lost to meetings, funerals and “events” plus the woeful attendance figures (of staff and “learners”) on Mondays and Fridays. This has been going on for decades. It is a toxic culture that needs uprooting.

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