Motshekga hails 73.9% matric pass rate success
THE 2012 matric class — the first cohort of the so-called "born frees" — secured a record pass rate of 73.9% alongside improvements in virtually all key indicators, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced on Wednesday.
While the announcement of the results in Johannesburg was met by a standing ovation in the auditorium at the SABC in Auckland Park, questions will again return to the ability of the higher education sector to absorb growing demand for further study, and preparedness of the candidates for higher education and work.
Dropout rates in tertiary education are approaching 40%, while business continues to raise concerns over the high cost of training graduates.
The class of 2012, all born in or after 1994, achieved a matric pass rate 3.7 percentage points higher than 2011, and 13.3 percentage points higher than 2009.
The results were a clear sign of a system registering improvements across the board, as well as the efficacy of a range of interventions in the provision of teaching and learning material, teacher training and general stability, Ms Motshekga said.
Of the 511,152 full-time and 81,552 part-time candidates who wrote exams, 136,047 or 26.6% qualified for study towards a university degree, while 139,741 or 27.3% can continue to a diploma. The results showed notable increases in the pass rates for mathematics and physical sciences, the key subjects looked to by employers and universities.
In physical sciences the 179,194 pupils who wrote achieved a pass rate of 61.3%, a 6.9 percentage point increase from 2011.
In mathematics the 224,635 candidates achieved a pass rate of 54% up from 46.3% in 2011, while in maths literacy the 297,341 candidates had an 87.4% pass rate.
Except for the Western Cape, all provinces registered significant increases in their pass rates, from the Eastern Cape at 61.6%, 3.5 percentage points up, to Gauteng which at a pass rate of 83.9% was up 2.8 points.
Deputy Minister Enver Surty said Gauteng’s performance was admirable, as it came with high levels of in-migration to the province as indicated by the results of Census 2011.
Although the second-placed Western Cape saw a slight drop of 0.1 points as compared to 2011’s 82.8%, it had the highest proportion of pupils achieving bachelor level passes at 36.5% of those who wrote — slightly edging out Gauteng’s 36.2%.
At a technical briefing on the results of the examinations prior to the announcement of the pass rate, Department of Basic Education director-general Bobby Soobrayan said the 54% of pupils who had achieved results allowing for further study for a degree or diploma was in line with some developed countries.
Ms Motshekga dismissed claims that standards were lower, saying she was "constantly surprised" by those who asserted that it was easier to pass now than under apartheid.
But the academic community and economists reiterated concern over the quality of passes.
Jeffrey Mabelebele, acting CEO of Higher Education SA, which represents South Africa’s 23 public universities, welcomed the results, but warned that the quality of students leaving school remained an issue. This was a problem well known to universities, which had been making preparations for the "underprepared". Demand for places in higher education continued to outstrip supply — this was notable in the Free State, said Mr Mabelebele.
Economist Mike Schussler said the matric qualification remained important in the job market, as those without it were more likely to remain unemployed than high school and university graduates.
"If you have less than a matric, then your chances of being unemployed are as high as 36%. Those who have matric have a 25% chance of unemployment, 7% for degree holders and 12% for those holding a trade," he said.
Mr Schussler said South Africa remained at the bottom of the emerging economy rankings in terms of completion of basic education. "While some might not feel it is fair to compare South Africa with these, our school completion rates are closer to India’s. I suspect Brazil, Russia and China have higher completion rates than our pass rate."
Economist and former science teacher Chris Hart also warned the pass rate was not a strong indication that the matriculants were adequately prepared for exiting basic education.
"Maths and science (grades) are low," he said. "The preparedness of people to enter the workplace is still in question, while the fact it is improving is encouraging. I would suggest we not lose sight of the need to ensure improvement is not merely a result of a lower passing threshold."