Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announces the National Senior Certificate Examination (NSC) top-achieving learners at Vodacom World in Midrand. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - The 2019 matric pass rate of 81.3%, an increase of 3.1% from 2018 and the highest pass rate since democracy has been met with mixed reactions on Tuesday.

Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga announced that the matric class of 2019 achieved an overall pass rate of 81.3%, with more than a third of candidates qualifying for university entrance and improvements recorded in schools serving some of the country’s poorest regions. 

She said that 81.3%, representing 409 906 pupils, passed the 2019 National Senior Certificate. Of this number, 36.9% obtained a bachelor’s pass.  The 2019 pass rate is a 3.1% improvement from 2018 when the national pass rate stood at 78.2%.

Lobby group, AfriForum, congratulated the matric class of 2019 and the teachers but said the "very high" official pass rate was a concern, saying that it did not give a complete and accurate reflection of the state of education.

AfriForum's education manager, Carien Bloem, said according to the 2008 School Realities Report there were 1 090 254 grade ones enrolled that year. However, the total number of candidates registered for the November 2019 NSC examinations was 788 717 and comprised 616 754 full-time and 170 963 part-time candidates. 

Bloem said that this meant more than 50% of learners from the 2008 group did not get to matric.

“When matric results are celebrated every year, the department focuses on the achievements of a few individuals and schools, while the young people who had become lost in the system are left without the necessary skills to make it in the very competitive job market. Referring to learners who received assistance in repeating matric doesn’t make it any better – it is concerning to realise that young people had to be in the school system for so long before they were able to receive meaningful help,” she said.

“The high pass rate in every province creates the impression that there are a lot of young people available for further education and employment. It is however very far from the truth and many of these learners only succeed in passing matric because of the low pass requirements. They still don’t have the valuable reading, writing and comprehension skills that would make someone suitable for employment.”

Earlier, the Democratic Alliance said that South Africa's "real" pass rate was 38.9%.

The party's basic education spokesperson, Nomsa Marchesi, made the claim via an emailed statement just after Motshekga announced the results.

"In 2017, a total of 1 052 080 learners were enrolled in grade 10, yet only 409 906 learners eventually passed matric last year. This means only 38.9% of grade 10 learners actually wrote and passed matric," said Marchesi. 

The true figure was due to "an extraordinarily high drop-out rate", she said, which meant hundreds of thousands of learners were denied the chance to write matric, let alone pass it.

"This is an indication of a dismally failing system, not a functional and successful one."

She said that for years the department punted the national pass rate because it shifted the focus "from their perpetual failures as an ANC government".

However, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the results were "a triumph and a clear signal that government’s substantial investment in education, in pupil and teacher support and in educational infrastructure is yielding results”.

“South Africans can be proud that education, like most aspects of our nation’s development, is on an upward trajectory which should inspire all of us to work together to accelerate and maintain excellence.”

“There has also been an increase in the number of female learners achieving bachelor’s passes, the Eastern Cape recorded the highest improvement in the matric pass rate, and not one of the country’s 75 districts performed below 60% - these are stellar achievements.” 

Motshekga announced that the top-performing province, for the second year running, was the Free State, with a pass rate of 88.4%, followed by Gauteng at 87.2%, the North West at 86.8%, Western Cape at 82.3%, KwaZulu-Natal at 81.3% and Mpumalanga at 80.3%. The Eastern Cape and Northern Cape tied at 76.5%, while Limpopo achieved a pass rate of 73.2%. Motshekga said the department purposely worked to close the gap between affluent and poor schools.

Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba welcomed the results.

“We applaud the continued hard work by all the stakeholders that have made an investment in the form of time and other resources in ensuring that our children have [a] solid and adequate foundation in relation to education which will guarantee them a better future. We also applaud the successful learners and encourage those that have failed to try again as they have the potential to succeed,” Mbinqo-Gigaba said. 

Mbinqo-Gigaba highlighted concerns in relation to the lack of improvement in the area of mathematics and that there had been an increase in schools that received a 0% pass rate. 

“It is concerning that 16 schools received 0% pass rate, an increase by five schools compared to 11 schools in 2018. The committee calls for urgent application of effective interventions at all the levels of the system to turn-around that emerging and unacceptable downward trajectory,” Mbinqo-Gigaba said.

African News Agency (ANA)