South Africa Debates 78.2%

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AN interesting debate is going on over South Africa’s 2013 public school matriculation results, where candidates achieved a 78.2 per cent pass rate, the highest since the examinations were administered country-wide from 1994. The University of the Cape of Good Hope conducted the first examination in 1858. The 2013 mark was also 4.3 per cent points higher than last year’s 73.9 per cent.

South Africa’s Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was expectedly triumphant. Free State was tops with 87.4 per cent pass rate, from 81.1 in 2012. KwaZulu-Natal scored 77.4 per cent, 73.1 percent in 2012. The Department of Basic Education had aimed for a 75 per cent pass rate by 2014. The examination is the equivalent of Nigeria’s senior secondary school leaving certificate.

South African educationists are warning that it was important to assess the quality of education beyond the pass rate. Their main grouse was that the figures would not reveal number of pupils who dropped out of school and disparities from district to district.

“Once the euphoria is behind us, we will begin to analyse the results in greater detail and identify the areas where we have not done well. The retention rate is also significant,” said Anthony Pierce, the KwaZulu-Natal head of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa.

Of the 654,723 candidates who wrote the 2013 matriculation, 562, 112 were full-time and 92, 611 part-time; 171, 755 of the pupils got a bachelor pass, qualifying them for university admission.

The National Freedom Party in its reaction called for a 50 percent matriculation pass mark. “We are not in the least happy with the promotion of the 33.33 percent pass to learners across all basic levels,” said NFP Youth Movement president Sibusiso Mncwabe.

Brad Brockman, Equal Education’s general secretary, said, “We want more emphasis on retention rates, the quality of passes and inequality between schools. Majority of children in South Africa either drops out of school or fails matriculation. While we celebrate those who manage to achieve despite all odds, our focus should really be on why the majority do not achieve.”

We are looking at the result and the debates they are generating in the context of Nigeria’s results in our final secondary school examinations and the near absence of concerns about them.

The best pass per cent rate is consistently under 40 per cent. There are no analyses of our “achievements” and the Ministry of Education does not have any plans to improve the result or projections of its expectations from candidates.

Criticisms of South Africa’s system can help improve it. Like us, their education needs improvements. Unlike us, they have something to improve, and they plan to do so.

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