Load shedding exacerbates education inequality in SA

Khatoentle Secondary School celebrate their 100% 2023 matric pass rate at their school. Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

Khatoentle Secondary School celebrate their 100% 2023 matric pass rate at their school. Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

Published Jan 24, 2024


These matric results indicate a systemic problem rooted in the South African political and socio-economic landscape.

The results indicate a problem of a two-economies society in South Africa: one a poor, unskilled society and the other, an affluent society.

Former president Thabo Mbeki likened these two economies to a double-storey house without linking staircases.

The energy crisis coupled with the poor core subjects matric results drive the point home that the two economies are totally disconnected.

The matric results are a classical indicator of the two-societies theory. On the first floor the poor are trapped in poverty, unemployment and lack of critical skills, living a miserable life, whereas the rich on the other upper floor enjoy the wealth and access to quality skilled jobs and opportunities in society and live a great life, so on and so forth.

Grandmaster Professor Pali Lehohla has shared his view, which is eloquently put, that the blame lies squarely on the poor choice of electing leaders in South African society, who have no capacity to deal with the critical issues facing our society, such as education.

In his latest Business Report column, “Matric results gloss over the dismal performance of our basic education system”, the professor strikes a similitude to Athenian politics.

“When Plato decried the rule of the masses and dismissed the system of politicians elected by popular vote as democracy, it was for a good reason. He made an infamous but a true assertion when he claimed that ‘within Athenian democracy, ordinary people do not elect the wisest and ablest to offices of power, but they vote to the demagogues best versed in oration and rhetoric’,” Lehohla wrote in his column.

How power crisis hits education

In my view, South Africa is our modern Athenian society. In the early part of 2023 the High Court made a landmark ruling regarding load shedding. The High Court of South Africa declared load shedding to be unconstitutional and ordered the government to speedily ensure that load shedding was ended.

The High Court further ordered Eskom and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to make sure that they put plans in place to isolate public facilities such as schools, public hospitals, libraries and police stations from experiencing load shedding within 30 days. Well, despite the ruling, darkness is still the order of the day.

The government appealed and lost another round last year on similar grounds. And to date has failed to uphold the judgment.

It's been a year now and very little progress in implementing the court order has been achieved. The government has still not ensured that public facilities are isolated from the grid and avoid load shedding. But the High Court order still stands.

This has knocked education, schools and public facilities. Without electricity teachers simply cannot teach in dark and unilluminated classrooms, quashing learners’ learning aspirations.

You cannot expect that the quality of education, matric pass rate, education levels and advanced scholarly pursuits will improve amid such a debilitating power crisis in South Africa.

It is an undeniable fact that load shedding is a major contributor to the high levels of unemployment and inequality in our society, which increases poverty and decimates the economy.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

The government has put forward its policy plan and is now focusing on driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution, albeit without a secured supply of electricity.

How will these policies be achieved when we have no electricity, and students who are supposed to be the engines driving this tech evolution have no adequate skills to build and contribute towards the economy?

All these issues are directly inter-related to electricity and guaranteed energy supply. The matriculation results show the stark reality of inequality in South Africa.

The 2023 matric pass rate for National Senior Certificate (NSC) lingers around 82.9%, only a tiny increase from 2022’s 80.1%, which is by no means shifting the needle

The 2023 matric results from the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) shows a totally different picture: a constant 98.46%, up from 98.42% in 2022.

The results of these certificates shows that IEB has a superior offering with a high pass rate of 98.42% against the NSC’s 82.9% pass rate.

In total, 897 775 full-time and part-time candidates enrolled in the 2023 NSC exams.

Uneven playground

To demonstrate the difference of quality of eduction provided, take for instance the Oakhill School in Knysna, which achieved a 100% pass rate with a 97% Bachelor’s degree pass (university exemption pass) in critical subjects.

How does a poor student coming from a loadshedding riddled community in Seshego or Ga-Mabitsela hope to compete with a student from Knysna, a mostly load-shedding-free community?

These two examination boards paint you a picture of two societies that South Africans live in: in the one society the IEB learners are based in wealthy, exclusive suburbs, schools and communities, whereas, in the second society, the NSC learners are from ordinary households, mostly poor communities attending fee-free schools, and some are from formal working middle-class communities, encompassing the majority general public matriculants.

This is the parallel two-economies universe which South Africans live in today. This economic divide reinforces a “haves” and “have-nots” society.

What is the key takeaway from these political and socio-economic imbalances? How does energy relate to these matric results?

It is not enough to just have pass rates that give learner a school-leaving certificate yet doesn’t provide them with critical skills subjects such as maths, science and accounting etc, which will guarantee them a decent job and post-high school access to Ivy League universities in the country.

And there are some who suspect that the jump in the matric results has been somewhat questionable since it’s an election year.

Jan Vermuelen wrote in his recent column in MyBroadband, “The strange connection between elections and matric results in South Africa”, that “in addition to being a great political talking point, many who benefited from the high pass rate will also be able to vote for the first time that year”.

So is the pass rate a booster to attract new, freshly matriculated voters? We will never know.

But the same criticism has been laid before on matric results by Professor Jonathan Jansen, an education expert, who says that passing Grade 12 matric in South Africa is actually quite easy and “it means very little”.

Because the majority of those who pass get a university entrance certificate. And the majority of those NSC students drop out due to poor academic performance because students struggle with academic subjects because they lack core subject and learning abilities to survive in universities.

The South African leadership encompassing all political structures in Parliament should take a decisive stance and correct the socio-economic trajectory of the South African education landscape. And make education the number one priority for our country.

After all is said and done, gratitude on the matric results should be given to President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga and the Cabinet; the portfolio and select committees responsible for basic Education in Parliament; Deputy Minister Dr Reginah Mhaule; the director-general of education; the premiers and MECs in provinces responsible for basic education and their respective heads of departments for their great leadership in improving the education outcomes in South Africa.

Crown Prince Adil Nchabeleng is president of Transform RSA and an independent energy expert.

* The views in this column are independent of Business Report and Independent Media.