Cape Town - While matric results have shown a steady and historic improvement in the country and province, experts believe the system is still far from turning the corner in terms of quantity and quality.
On Thursday evening, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that the 2023 matric cohort achieved a pass rate of 82.9%, a 2.8% improvement from last year's 80.1%, and a 6.5% leap from the previous year's 76.4%.
This while the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) announced a pass rate of 98.46% achieved by its matrics.
Professor Mbulu Madiba, the Dean of the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University, said while the system was improving, there was still a need to improve retention across the grades.
“It is important to recognise that there are many learners who dropped out of the system or did not write the exam.
“The matric results are based on the number that wrote the exam.
“Research has shown that out of a cohort of 10 Grade 1 learners only four complete matric. There is a need for improvement here,” he said.
Regarding quality, Madiba said it was a fact that the country's 10-year-olds were not able to read with meaning.
“Literacy and numeracy remain a challenge and these affect the quality of learning.
“Quality of learning is further affected by overcrowding, lack of proper infrastructure, and so on.”
Madiba said while it was heartening to see the increased number of bachelor's passes and particularly passes in maths, the number of maths students remained relatively low.
“Most learners are encouraged to take maths literacy to improve their chances to get a bachelor's pass,” he said.
The top performers this year, as in all the other years since the dawn of democracy, continued to come from former Model C schools and Madiba said the government needed to continue to support schools in terms of infrastructure and resources.
“Former Model C schools are well-resourced financially and have good infrastructure. Teachers-pupil ratio in those schools remains low as some of them have additional SGBs posts.
“The environment in which these schools are located is conducive to learning and most of the staff members are well-qualified.
“Most schools in lower quintiles do not have such resources and enabling learning environment.
“However, with good leadership and teachers' commitment and dedication, some of these schools have produced very good results,” he said.
Good progress had been made with improving access to education, but success remained a challenge.
Professor Michael le Cordeur, vicedean: Teaching and Learning in the Education Faculty at Stellenbosch University, said while the matric results depicted a stabilising system, the system was far from the ideal situation.
“There are still plenty of issues that require our attention, especially with quantity versus quality.
“We must remember that only 60% of those who enrolled for Grade 1 in 2012 ended up in matric.
“We are still losing too many learners along the road which is cause for great concern.
“The increased bachelor's passes is noted with pride but not enough of them studied the so-called STEM subjects with the result that many still end up unemployed and not studying at any tertiary institution,” he said.
Le Cordeur agreed that stability within the trade unions translated into stability in the schools.
“I think there is a growing stability within teachers trade unions and most of them are starting to realise the importance of appointing quality principals and teachers.”
Le Cordeur said that it was not ideal that the top performing schools were still within the ambit of former model C schools because it did not say a lot about South Africa's transformation process in education.
“What is more concerning is that poor schools continue to lose their best students to Model C schools, taking the expertise and funds of their parents with them. The poor are indeed getting poorer,” he said.
Educators Union of South Africa chairperson Andre de Bruin said this was something that the union had been calling on for a long time.
“This is the domino effect playing itself out, because the department does not have the finances to employ more teachers, meaning classes will now have 60-plus learners, while ex-Model C schools are still empty and thriving.
“When will the inequalities be addressed head-on and gutter education be eradicated from the lives of the poorest of the poor?” he asked.
Cape Peninsula University of Technology lecturer Sandra Swanepoel, also believes that there are still way too many children that still did not progress enough to be able to enjoy results.
“Those are the children that have fallen out of the school system or the many Grade 11s that were held back or the children that were forced into maths literacy because they will not do ‘good enough' for the results people want to see in the statistics,” she said.
Swanepoel said the reason why former Model C schools are thriving is because of the involvement of the whole school community.
“My honest opinion is that I believe those Model C schools and with schools I mean, learners, parents, teachers, governing bodies are more motivated. For some reason, I think that schools other than the old model C schools, do not try hard enough.
“I do know that it is ‘terrible’ to say something like this, but as an example: I have observed a pre-school teacher during teaching practice this year at a school with no resources. It was one of the best lessons I have ever observed and I have seen many.
“It was amazing how creative she was. That is what we need in the school system. Everybody thinks a good school is a school with lots of resources. That is nonsense.
“You can still be a good school, even a fantastic school, without the ‘resources”. We think money will make the difference. Money doesn't make a difference, different thinking makes a difference,” she says.