KwaZulu-Natal school principals, parents and education experts are divided over whether a 78.2 percent pass rate is an achievement to celebrate, with some calling for the base pass to be raised to at least 40 percent.
This was after University of the Free State vice-chancellor Professor Jonathan Jansen called for the minimum matric pass mark to be increased to 50 percent in an opinion piece in the Sunday Times at the weekend.
“We should begin by raising the pass mark for all school subjects to 50 percent, the (still, admittedly, low) standard set for academic work in most contexts,” Jansen wrote.
Education expert, Graeme Bloch, yesterday said an improvement in the matric pass rate to 78 percent showed that the hands-on approach by the education department under former MEC, Senzo Mchunu, had produced results. However, he agreed with Jansen’s call to raise the pass mark.
“I think we are expecting more from our kids, which is the right way to go. The issue is: more parental involvement and not just hoping teachers will teach better,” Bloch said.
He added that increasing the pass mark would require a complete change of the education system, and he was concerned that more children would fail.
Wits University senior lecturer in the School of Education, Dr Lee Rusznyak, said the way the pass rate was calculated was misleading as the percentage increased if the number of children writing decreased, and that many weaker learners dropped out before the exams.
“There are different classes of National Senior Certificate passes. In order to have a bachelor pass, matriculants have to have over 50 percent in four designated subjects.
“Last year about 27 percent of candidates who wrote… got the bachelor pass. That is very different to a diploma pass, where you need 30 percent in four subjects, and a higher certificate, which requires 30 percent in a language,” she said.
Rusznyak said reflecting the pass rate as a single percentage was “loaded and complex” and that the pass rate needed to be analysed comparing disadvantaged schools with others as well as schools between provinces to interpret it meaningfully.
Danville Park Girls’ High principal, Cally Maddams, said an improved pass rate of 78 percent showed that progress had been made in teaching and learning countrywide.
But, she added, pupils needed to achieve more than a minimum pass to reach their goals. “Over a number of years now we have made it our target to achieve over 95 percent university passes – the pass requirement for university entrance is 50 percent in four subjects including home language,” Maddams said.
“Although this is Danville’s minimum benchmark, the reality is that in order for girls to be accepted into the courses and universities of their choice, they need to achieve even higher marks,” she noted.
Westville Boys’ High School principal, Trevor Hall, said the 30 percent pass rate for some subjects had been introduced with the new National Curriculum Statement in 2008, which did away with standard and higher grade to bring the education system in line with international practice. He said this had been necessary because the consolidated matric paper was more difficult for former standard grade pupils.
“If the pass mark is increased… we are going to have more children failing, which will clog up the schools.”
Hall said a 30 percent pass mark enabled students to leave school and possibly learn a trade, while many with an ordinary bachelor pass would not necessarily meet the requirements of their preferred university courses.
Zwelibanzi High School principal, Sibusiso Maseko, said it was important to raise the pass mark “because even when we lower the bar to 30 percent we are not doing very well, and in a way we are fooling ourselves.” He said a 40 percent base pass mark would be preferable for all subjects.
“We need to… strive for excellence,” Maseko said.
Asked about the pass rate, KZN Parents Association chairman, Sayed Rajack, said parents were more concerned about the ability of their children to access tertiary education. “Our concern… is that certain schools… pride themselves in a 100 percent pass rate but only five or six of their learners can enter a tertiary institution.”
He added there were insufficient places at tertiary institutions for local matriculants, while there were many international students studying at South African universities.