Equal Education would like to wish the matrics of 2014 all the best ahead of their matric exams starting this week. We know that many of these learners are banking on these results to open up opportunities for them in Higher Education and Training, in various learnerships and even some form of employment.
Whereas others have hailed the increase in percentages of the matric pass rate as an improvement in the general education system, as Equal Education we have maintained that the matric pass rate is, on its own, not an accurate yardstick to measure good and quality education. We hold the view that the quality of the education must also be measured by other things like inputs such as school infrastructure, textbooks and stocked and functional libraries, as well as outcomes such as drop-out rates, literacy and numeracy levels and other such indicators of the quality of learning and teaching.
There are negative consequences of over-emphasising the matric result as a measure of educational health. In many schools learners are being prevented from writing matric if schools assess them as likely to fail. This is because pressure to deliver higher pass-rates is felt at all levels of the system: schools, districts, provinces and national. At the same time learners are pushed into subjects perceived as easier, like Maths Literacy. It is encouraging that the DBE has acknowledged this as a challenge.
If we look at the 2013 matric class, when they started grade 1 in 2002 there was 1,261,827 learners enrolled in the system. By the time these learners sat down for their final matric exams there was only 562,112 learners registered to write the NSC. This means only half of these learners who started in grade 1 made it to matric.
The matric pass rate as presented in a big white envelope every year has managed to mask the real inequalities in the education system and downplayed some of the persisting problems. The average does not show that the good schools that perform exceptionally well mask those schools that underperform and produce bad results. We demand a greater disaggregation of the results in the DBE’s report to show results by rural v urban, fee-paying v no-fee, former DET v former Model-C, and other measures that speak to fundamental progress in addressing inequality, or lack thereof.
We insist that the matric pass rate must not be used as the barometer for good education. Whereas we are always happy to see learners pass and pursue their goals, we remain acutely aware of the fact that inequality in education prevents many learners from pursuing those goals. Those who are able to pass and access higher education or any form of opportunity post matric are but an iota compared to those that get sidelined.
Gradual improvement is possible, but magical results are not. Pressure on the Minister of Basic Education or on school principals to produce steep improvements in matric results will lead to perverse outcomes. We need to act with a sense of urgency but have the patience to ensure that any improvements are real and sustained.
Efforts must be geared towards achieving an equal and quality education system. This can be done by improving school infrastructure, strengthening teacher training programs, focusing on learner retention, improving numeracy and literacy skills, so that what comes out of the white envelope in January is good not only in quantity but in quality as well.
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