Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga at the release of the 2017 matric results. Picture: Lindi Masinga/ANA

Johannesburg - The ANC on Friday applauded a higher pass rate from the 2017 school ending examinations, but opposition said the results were much weaker when facturing in a worryingly high dropout rate.

The African National Congress said the National Senior Certificate examination results announced on Thursday, which showed a 75.1 percent pass rate, up from 72.5 percent in 2016, were the outcome of  "years of toil, dedication and determination by the learners, educators, parents and other education stakeholders over a concerted period of time".

It saluted the basic education ministry, teachers and other partners for "indeed making education a societal issue".

But the main opposition Democratic Alliance said the real pass rate was much lower at 37.3 percent if taking into account that many pupils had dropped out of school between the Grade 10 class of 2015 and those who ultimately wrote their final exams in 2017.

"The situation has worsened from last year’s real pass rate of 40.2 percent, suggesting that our schooling system is not a ‘system on the rise’ as claimed," DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Basic Education Nomsa Marchesi said.

"The ‘real’ pass rates for each province highlights a dire situation which means that learners will not be able to enter post-school education or job market this year."

The DA has repeatedly asked for the government to probe the high dropout rate in South African schools, and accuses Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga of refusing to look into what it says has been a systematic "culling" of students from Grade 10 onwards in order to manipulate the matric final results.

The South African Communist Party (SACP), which has been in a governing alliance with the ANC since 1994, although relations have lately soured, said it was concerned that school results in some provinces remained sub par.

"The provinces of Limpopo, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, even if they have achieved a welcome improvement, are still at the bottom compared to other provinces," it said.

The issue of a common curriculum between public and private schools, as well as uneven development and unequal distribution of resources among the provinces, also needed urgent attention, it said.

"It is unfair to compare learners with massive access to resources and support with those who lack such access and support both at school and at home," the SACP said.

"Investment is required to eliminate social and resource distribution inequality between and bring learners to a level playing field."

Motshekga conceded on Thursday that more still needed to be done to improve the level of education in South Africa.

"We will be the first to concede that despite the notable stability of and improvements in our system, we are yet to cross our own Rubicon," she said.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) also said it was worried about the high dropout rate and the poor examination results from rural areas.

Like the DA, it said the 2017 real pass rate was dramatically lower if one compared the number of learners who sat their final exams with those who enrolled for their first year of school twelve years ago.

While 1 185 198 learners were enrolled for Grade 1 in 2006, the number of those who sat for the matric exams last year was 651 707, meaning that 533 491 had dropped out along the way, the Nehawu secretariat said in a statement. This lowered the actual 2017 pass rate to 41 percent.

The weaker results from rural areas pointed to an unfair distribution of resources., with children from rural schools often forced to have classes in mud rooms and travel long distances on foot while the number of teachers they had was not adequate, it said.

"Rural provinces continue to perform very horribly and this downward trend is continuing unabated," Nehawu said. "This further highlights the glaring disparities both in resources and infrastructure between rural and urban schools."

African News Agency/ANA