STANDARDS: Matric candidates found the going tough in the 2015 exams, as Umalusi Council chairman John Volmink believes examiners set papers that reflect what the new curriculum demands. Picture: THE HERALD
Matric students. Picture: THE HERALD

FOR THE second year, the pass rate among matriculants fell, indicating inadequacies in the education system.

The pass rate among the almost 800,000 who wrote the exams dropped to 70.7% from 75.9% in 2014.

Shortcomings in the education system, in spite of consistently high spending, are to blame for SA’s chronic skills deficit.

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga said some provinces suffered close to double-digit drops.

Poor provinces registered considerable falls — Eastern Cape attained a 56.8%,  dropping from 65.4% in 2014, while  KwaZulu-Natal was at 60.7%, down from 69,7%  and  Limpopo dropped to 65.9%, from 72.9%.

But analysts, academics and the department itself have warned that focusing narrowly on matric results offered a distorted view of the health of SA’s education system.

At a ceremony announcing the results, Ms Motshekga said the 2015 exams had been the hardest ever. The department would announce support measures including improved psycho-social support for pupils.

The Western Cape scored the highest pass rate at 84.7% — an increase of 2.5 percentage points from 2014, and the Eastern Cape the lowest.

Just under 800,000 wrote the 2015 examination, some 110,000 more than in 2014.

The number of those qualifying for admission to universities increased from 150,737 in 2014 to 166,263 in 2015.

In key subjects such as maths and physical science, the number of passes increased, however as a proportion of the total more pupils failed.

The dip in the results was already expected, after quality assurance body Umalusi said last week that the class of 2015 had performed worse than the matrics of 2014.

Umalusi said the results were poorer because there had been increased cognitive demand in the curriculum; stricter marking of scripts; more borderline candidates from Grade 11 had gone into matric last year; and less group copying.

Umalusi council chairman Professor John Volmink was concerned by irregularities, including group copying, but concluded that these were not systemic.

Visiting adjunct professor at the Wits School of Governance Graeme Bloch said on Tuesday Ms Motshekga’s announcement of increased psychosocial support was welcomed, as one of the main contributing factors was unequal resources.

This was particularly evident in school infrastructure, said Mr Bloch.

And he said that though the announcement that poorer schools had performed better was to be applauded, "I don’t believe the minister in that that they have caught up substantially."

Prof Ruksana Osman, dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Wits said half the matric cohort came from the three worst-performing provinces, which was a possible factor in the lower pass rate.

"The government has to be commended on closing the gap in terms of access … but the issue remains that children continue to get poor quality education in poor schools," said Prof Osman.

The focus should however be on the individuals within the system, and whether they have been sufficiently prepared to leave basic education, she said.

Prof Osman also welcomed the announcement of greater focus on vocational streams, adding that while "the government is making a lot of effort to make it attractive, youngsters are still not buying into it".

The National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA described the drop as "disconcerting" but said it was evidence of a more demanding curriculum.

The Democratic Alliance on Tuesday  called for honest reflection saying the system continued to fail millions of students.