The DA’s Western Cape’s exceptionalism myth has been shattered by the drop in National Senior Certificate rankings after the matric pass rate regressed from third to fifth place out of the nine provinces, over a three-year period.
This is according to opposition parties who blasted the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) following the release of the matric results last week showing Free State at the top, with an 89.0% pass rate, followed by KwaZulu-Natal at 86.4%, Gauteng at 85.4%, North West at 81.6% and Western Cape with 81.5%.
In 2022, the Western Cape was in fourth place with 81.4%, and in 2021 the province achieved an 81.2% pass rate, in third place nationally.
The Western Cape, however, produced not one but two overall top-performing matriculants in the country – Melissa Muller from Rhenish Girls’ High School public school in Stellenbosch, and Ethan Myers from Herzlia High School, an independent school in Vredehoek.
Several schools in disadvantaged areas, however, showed notable decreases, including Princeton High in Mitchells Plain, which went from 72.8% in 2022 to 61.2% last year. Similarly, AZ Berman went from 65.2% to 54.1%, and Tafelsig High from 68.2% to 48.6%.
At Heathfield High School, where the former principal, Wesley Neumann, is still in a legal battle with the WCED, the matric pass rate has gone from 76% in 2021 to 61.2% in 2022 and to 50.5% in 2023.
The ANC in the Western Cape blamed “decades-long neglect” of schools in poor and working-class and rural communities by the DA-led government.
“The Western Cape’s poor matric result which saw our province plummet to fifth place, coupled with other failures like overcrowded classrooms and the unplaced learner crisis affecting poor and working-class communities, shatter the DA’s Western Cape exceptionalism myth,” said ANC provincial secretary Neville Delport.
SACP provincial secretary Benson Ngqentsu said they were concerned about what appeared as a narrow concentration of top achievers from the most affluent schools and those with qualifying bachelors.
“Such a trend confirms the whole notion of skewed resource distribution in the Western Cape that favours the most affluent schools. In essence, such skewed resource distribution or social disparities are rooted in class inequalities,” he said.
SA1stforum convenor advocate Rod Solomons said the province’s ranking had come as a “huge upset” and surprise to many, adding that it was indicative of a “crisis of deep inequality, a bigger malaise in the Western Cape”.
“This is a sign of the deepening inequality and the divide in this DA-run Western Cape between the rich and the poor. It’s indicative of the situation in black and so-called coloured areas, with the resources, the situation in those schools and that the material conditions in those areas are worse in spite of the DA spin. The social evils are not being addressed in those communities and there’s no sense of equity and people don’t live with dignity. Our education results are giving us key pointers in that regard,” he said.
Education MEC David Maynier said they were pleased their pass rate had increased, “especially given the challenges we faced last year”.
“Our matrics, their teachers and their parents have worked together to achieve this result, and we are so proud of them. Far from the divide between schools increasing, in our province the factual evidence shows that the education inequality gap is decreasing: in particular, our lower quintile schools in the poorest communities continue to increase their pass and bachelors rates. If we look at Metro East for example, our township schools have produced excellent increases in pass rates this year, helping the district to increase its pass rate by 5.23 percentage points to 83.52%, which is the largest district increase in the province. Our province’s big success this year is having the pass rate go up at the same time as the retention rate, which is difficult to do,” he said.
DA Western Cape spokesperson on Education Deidré Baartman added it was “misleading to cast aspersions on the Western Cape’s pass rate when all indicators show improvement”.
“The Western Cape’s pass rate has improved this year, and the province achieved its highest-ever number of Bachelor’s passes. The WCED has also placed a special emphasis on schools in difficult socio-economic environments, with the result that quintile 1, 2, and 3 schools – all of which provide quality, no-fee education – substantially improved their average pass rate this year.
The WCED has poured hundreds of millions of rand into improving school infrastructure. In the last financial year, the department built more than 600 new classrooms, and eight entirely new schools – the vast majority of which are in working-class and rural areas. This investment in infrastructure stands in stark contrast to the stagnation of educational infrastructure development in ANC-controlled provinces.”