Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga released the matric results on Thursday, reflecting a national pass rate of 75.1%.
Education expert Corvell Cranfield, who is director of the School Turnaround Foundation, said the 2017 pass rate did not mean that the education system was in a good state and that achievement levels were stabilising.
Cranfield said it was “premature to celebrate the so-called improvements” in the system as not all the data for an in-depth analysis was available yet.
“However, I hasten to add that the obsession with percentages of pass rates increasing or decreasing is such a low level quantitative analysis that simply hides the real truth.
“For example, a school could have a 100% pass rate for maths, but the average for the subject is 37% and the range of scores for the class is 30% to 42%. Noting that, the pass mark for maths is 30%.”
He said it was imperative for all schools to change how they thought and planned for 2018.
“You cannot plan for Grade 12 success when learners are in Grade 12. Planning must start in Grade 8. If we continue to do the same activities every year it is not rocket science that we will get the same results. We need to think differently about quality education by designing schools of excellence within our townships,” he added.
A total of 802431 pupils registered for the exams but only 651707 sat for the exams at the end of 2017.
A total of 497 schools achieved a 100% pass rate 7.3% of all schools - down from 8% in 2016.
At least 153610 pupils received a pass rate which will allow them to study at university; 161133 are eligible to study for a diploma, while 86265 obtained higher certificates which allows them to study at the Technical and Vocational and Training colleges (TVET). A large number of those who passed were from the no-fee schools nationally with 76300 of them receiving a Bachelor’s degree pass.
The largely rural provinces, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape recorded improvements in their pass rates, with KwaZulu-Natal’s up by 6.4%, Eastern Cape by 5.7% and Limpopo by 3.1%.
Some of the country’s top performers were from Western Cape public schools. Janke van Dyk from Bellville High School took first place and Matthys Carstens from Durbanville High School was placed second. In the subjects categories Erin Solomons from Rondebosch Boys’ High School was placed third in Physical Science.
Equal Education also cautioned against the use of the pass rate as a barometer to gauge the broader quality of education and said the results should be read alongside the recent research results which showed that 80% of Grade 4 pupils could not read for meaning.
A spokesperson for Equal Education, Roné McFarlane, said the dropout rate was also a cause for concern and if this was taken into account the pass rate would be closer to 40% than 75%.
McFarlane said 19 000 pupils who passed were progressed pupils - those who had failed Grade 11 once or twice but were allowed to progress to Grade 12 - with some obtaining a Bachelor’s degree pass.
“Also encouraging to see was that rural provinces managed to improve their results although there’s still a long way to go. But we hope they will work tirelessly to support the learners and teachers to achieve good results,” she said.
While the DA congratulated all pupils who passed their matric, the party said it was concerned by the “truly shocking dropout figures” that put the real pass rate at 37.3%. It determined this calculation from the pass rate of the number of pupils who passed Grade 10 in 2015 to those who passed their final school exams in 2017.
“Only 49.7% of Grade 10s actually wrote the final exams and a startling 37.3% of 2015’s Grade 10 learners actually passed. This means that over 62.7% of Grade 10s did not pass, dropped out or became stuck in the system. The situation has worsened from last year’s real pass rate of 40.2% - suggesting that our schooling system is not a ‘system on the rise’ as claimed,” the DA said.
It added that the “real” pass rates for each province highlighted a dire situation which meant that pupils would not be able to enter post-school education or the job market this year.
Western Cape Education Minister Debbie Schäfer said when factors such as the retention rate of pupils in the education system and access to a Bachelor’s degree pass were taken into consideration, the province showed a marked improvement.
“We are thus especially pleased that the Western Cape has again achieved the highest percentage of bachelor passes in the country, with 39.1% of learners achieving this quality pass.
“In maths, the Western Cape achieved the highest pass rate, with 73.9%.”
Schäfer said eight education districts in the province achieved an over-80% pass rate, with the Overberg district achieving 10th place in the country out of 70 districts with a pass rate of 87.7%.
“We believe that retaining more learners in the system and giving them the opportunity to pass the National Senior Certificate is more important than “losing” learners along the way so that schools can achieve a higher pass rate,” she said.
Schäfer expressed disappointment that Motshekga made no mention of the “inclusive basket criteria” that had been piloted for the past two years, which took into consideration retention rate, and which she said would give a real pass rate.
“It is clear that the Western Cape has retained the most learners in the system between Grades 10 and 12 - with a retention rate of 12.8 percentage points higher than Gauteng, and 22 percentage points higher than the Free State,” Schäfer said.
She said the department was analysing the results to determine which schools did not perform well and in which subject areas.
“It is evident that learners in subjects such as business studies, geography, accounting and history, performed at lower levels. This now needs to be compared and contrasted with the national results and the various districts.
“Once the results have been analysed, we will engage with our senior management regarding a strategy for improving the results at the end of 2018,” she added.
The department was concerned about the “ongoing failure of other provinces to conduct competency testing” for their matric markers and the variances of this as mentioned by Umalusi, “leaves one with the impression that this was an issue which could have affected the results”.
She said it was vital that consistency in marking across provinces was achieved “to ensure that we are comparing apples with apples”.
South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) general secretary Mugwena Maluleke, was however, optimistic about the results, saying interventions that had been put in place to boost the quality of education were starting to bear fruit.
However, he said the government needed to address inequalities in terms of resources among urban and rural schools.
Trade union Solidarity urged the matriculants of 2017 to make education and training a priority.
“Although employment in South Africa is under pressure, it is clear that people with further education have significantly better prospects, not only of being employed, but of getting a good job,” said Connie Mulder, head of the Solidarity Research Institute.