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Back-to-back increases in the matric pass rate over the past two years show that the education system – although still fraught with problems – has turned a corner.
This is the gist of comments made by a number of education experts on Thursday in reaction to this year’s matric results.
A national pass rate of 70.2 percent, up 2.4 percentage points from 2010’s 67.8 percent, was announced by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
The 2010 pass rate had increased by 7.2 percentage points from 2009, which a number of experts had questioned as improbable.
Esrah Ramasehla, president of Naptosa (National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa), said: “If this can be sustained, then it could be an indication that the education system has finally turned the corner. This is clearly what the education system should be geared towards.”
The national chief executive of the Governing Body Foundation, Tim Gordon, echoed this and said the results had provided the first pointer that the disputed results of 2010 may have heralded a turnaround in teaching and learning outcomes in schools.
“The breaking of the 70 percent pass level countrywide signals the slaying of an important psychological dragon.”
Western Cape matrics achieved a pass rate of 82.9 percent, up 6.1 percentage points over the 2010 pass rate. In 2009, the province attained a 75.7 percent pass rate.
The province also significantly decreased the number of under-performing schools – those which achieved pass rates of less than 60 percent – to 30, from 78 in 2010.
National concerns raised by experts included:
*The decrease in maths, accounting and economics pass rates.
*The decrease in the number of pupils who choose these subjects.
*An over-emphasis on the matric pass rate, rather than the quality of teaching and learning.
*The likelihood that matriculants would be able to study further or find work.
*The unequal divide at the rich and poor schools.
The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union said that, while there had been an increase in the number of pupils from poor communities who passed and who passed with exemption, much more needed to be done to assist them to get access to tertiary and higher education institutions. They called on the department to implement changes, including reducing the teacher-pupil class ratio.
Ramasehla said Naptosa was particularly concerned that there was too much emphasis on pass rates and not enough focus on improving the quality of teaching and learning.
“If there is a ‘standards drift’, with examinations becoming less challenging, the marks and pass rates are, effectively, very misleading and this could result in departments becoming complacent whilst, in reality, the quality of education is sliding backwards.”
Steve Schlesinger, chairman of the provincial arm of the Governing Body Foundation, said it was a matter for concern that an over-emphasis on matric results could have negative effects on the quality and nature of education.
Schlesinger said it would be unfortunate if the emphasis on these results would force schools to adopt policies which encouraged pupils to avoid more difficult subjects like maths and science.
NGO Equal Education said the increase in the overall pass rate was overshadowed by the large number of pupils who continued to drop out of school before matric.
“One of the reasons for this decrease is that the obsession with the overall pass rate results in a national culture of schools encouraging weaker students not to write the examinations,” said the organisation in a statement.
Nearly half of the pupils who entered Grade 1 12 years ago wrote matric last year.
“Therefore nearly half dropped out of school along the way. Thus, the pass rate of 70.2 percent, when measured against all those who began school in 2000, reveals a true pass rate of approximately 38 percent. This is an improvement on 2010 but still a sobering statistic.”
The 2011 Western Cape matrics were able to significantly increase their pass rate in maths and science to achieve an overall pass rate of 68.7 percent and 65.3 percent respectively. Nationally only the science results improved to 53.4 percent while maths decreased by 2.1 percentage points to 45.3 percent.
Equal Education was also concerned about the number of pupils who were able to pass the maths exam. “When one considers that mathematics is a crucial skill and gateway to science, medicine, commerce, engineering and many other vital parts of the economy, this trend is extremely worrying. Maths literacy, while useful, is not a substitute.” The organisation pointed out that the ongoing decrease in maths candidates correlated with the increase in the overall pass rate.
“Simply put, less students writing mathematics and more students writing maths literacy will correspond to an improving overall matric pass rate. Such an increase is artificial.”
Neren Rau, the chief executive of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said it was questionable whether the quality of the education received at public schools was creating employable school-leavers.
“A matriculant entering the job market in 2012 will be challenged by both the low number of opportunities available, as a consequence of the current economic circumstances, and by concerns about the level of investment required to ensure that candidates will be able to contribute effectively to organisations.” - Cape Times
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