Improvement in Matric pass rate positive, but many ‘born frees’ lost along the way

Home | Improvement in Matric pass rate positive, but many ‘born frees’ lost along the way

Equal Education (EE) congratulates learners, teachers, principals and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on achieving a national matric pass rate of 73.9%. This is an improvement of 3.7 percentage points from 70.2% in 2011.

This is encouraging, and EE is cautiously optimistic that we are slowly beginning to see the combined effects of moving away from OBE, the introduction of workbooks, somewhat improved textbooks access (Limpopo notwithstanding), a marginally more motivated teacher body, and an increasingly active citizenry and civil society.

Mathematics and science results

We are encouraged that the number of Maths passes has improved, up towards 2010 levels (shown above). However, although the total number of matriculants rose in 2012 as compared to 2011, the number of students writing Maths remains low (see above).

At the same time, enrollment in Maths Literacy (with a much higher pass-rate of 87.4%) unsurprisingly continues to rise, up to 291,341 students, an increase of over 15,000 on 2011 (Maths Literacy not shown above; see page 63 of the DBE technical report for more details).

We are further encouraged that the pass-rate at 40% has also gone up from 30.1% of students in 2011 to 35.7% of students in 2012 (not shown above; see page 64 of the DBE technical report for more details).This shows that the quality of passes has improved slightly.

Mathematics is crucial for individual freedom and economic development; it is a gateway to science, medicine, commerce, engineering and other vital parts of the economy.

Nevertheless, the carnival mood at the announcement ceremony was somewhat over the top when certain realities are considered:


Learner retention

Learner retention remains poor and may even have worsened slightly. This undermines the improve pass-rate because it begs the question: 73.9% of what?

(Numbers tend to differ between the DBE Matric Technical Reports of various years, the DBE’s “Education Statistics” annual publications and the DBE’s “School Realities” annual publications. The above are our best estimate of the real figures.)

The above shows that the 2012 matric class started grade 1 in 2001 as a group of 1,150,637 learners, dropped only slightly to 1,039,762 by grade 10, and then dramatically down to 551,837 in matric.

Less than half of those present on day 1 of grade 10 were there to write their matric exams. This is a crisis of monumental proportions. The 73.9% pass rate needs to be considered against the number of learners who did not make it through the schooling system. These young people now face the task of finding employment to survive.

These drop-out figures can be accounted for in a number of ways. Some schools resort to ‘gaming’ the system by pushing poor performing learners out of the system in order to protect their school’s pass rate. Learners may also be moved from full-time candidates to part-time candidates. There will also be a large number of learners who drop out of the system because their families are no longer able to afford schooling, or they have lost faith and hope in the promise of education. For many learners the poor quality of education means they do not get that sublime feeling of accomplishment, the joy of learning, the daily sense of progress. Therefore they abandon their studies.


In quintiles 1 and 2 (South Africa’s poorest schools) 95 schools achieved pass rates of less than 20%, whereas in quintiles 4 and 5 (wealthier public schools) only five schools achieved a pass rate of less than 20%. This shows that results continue to be linked to resources.

Such an analysis is critical to evaluate what impacts performance. Various major impediments exist for poor schools:

  • Only 8% of schools have functioning libraries. Over 3,600 schools lack electricity and 2,400 lack running water.
  • In the Eastern Cape over 300 ‘mud schools’ still remain. These dangerous structures are not conducive to learning and impact negatively on learners and teachers.
  • Due to shortages of qualified teachers, inadequate salaries and a lack of incentives to attract teachers into poor communities’ schools often have large classes. In Khayelitsha, in the Western Cape, it is common for class sizes to range between 50 and 60 learners.

Problematic: Reports do not allow for analysis by race and class

An analysis of the matric results based on class and race inequality is crucial, and should be a centre-piece of the government’s engagement with the results, but it is largely missing from the published information.

There are three documents that the DBE has made available:

  1. The Technical Report (this has been removed from the website)
  2. The School Subject Report
  3. The School Performance Report

The Technical Report breaks the overall passes down by province and district, whereas the School Subject Report and School Performance Report both provide data on a school level. All of this is good, but does not provide any analysis of patterns of inequality. The only tiny piece of data provided is on page 58 of the Technical Report which shows pass intervals according to school quintiles.

What is needed is analysis comparing rural to urban, township to suburb, former model-C to former DET, schools with libraries to schools without, and so on. A serious Technical Report would provide that kind of information.

We encourage the media to try to obtain data from the DBE or provincial departments that disaggregates the results by ‘race’ and former racial classification of schools, socio-economic status, and geographic type. That is the real story.

For comment please contact:

Doron Isaacs, Deputy General Secretary 082 850 2111

Yoliswa Dwane, Chairperson 072 342 7747

Kate Wilkinson, Media Officer 082 326 5353

Hopolang Selebalo, Parliamentary Officer 074 261 1672