The 2010 matric results in South Africa were better than expected, with 67.8% of pupils passing the 2010 exams, up 7.1% from the results achieved in 2009.
The dramatic improvement in the matric pass rate has come as a surprise to many; after all, the 2010 generation of 12th graders lost many school days in June due to the Fifa world cup, and then again in September because of a teachers’ strike.
There are stories of Herculean efforts to compensate for the hurdles thrown the 2010 matrics’ way.
One secondary school, Itumeleng Secondary School in Ledig, a village about 5km from Sun City, has recorded an improvement in the matric pass rate from 43% in 2009 to 66% last year. – thanks to help from North-West University (NWU) has done a marvellous job in turning around a badly performing high school. the university had started Saturday programmes and afternoon classes to help improve the results and that they had borne fruit.
Some provincial education department had also organised matric camps, where more attention was placed on mathematics, science and English.
Education department says "remarkable achievement" and said it was possible that the 2010 public sector strike might have robbed the department of its targeted 70% pass rate. The department had aimed for a pass rate of 70% for 2010 and a 10% improvement by 2014.
There have been several big jumps in the South African matric pass rates since 1994. In 2010, the year-on-year improvement stands at 7.1%; in 2000 that percentage was 9%; and in 2002 it was 7,2%. Worldwide, big fluctuations from one year to the next in the results of exams written by a substantial number of candidates are unusual.
The 2010 matric pass rate drew other criticisms too:
It was noticed that there was a steep decrease in the number of full-time candidates and a significant increase in that of part-time matrics. Since part time matrics are not included in the final pass figure, which has led some to claim that schools were weeding out weaker learners, forcing them to become part-timers to ensure a good pass rate.
In 2010, 537,543 “full-time” candidates wrote the ¬prescribed seven subjects, 14,530 less than in 2009. In contrast, the number of part-time candidates more than doubled, from 39 255 in 2009 to 82 835 last year.
Low pass barrier is another sore point. Currently, a candidate has to achieve only 30% of correct answers in order to pass an exam. This, however, does not grant entrance to most universities; actually, only which 23,5% of full-time candidates achieved university passes in 2010, up from last year's 19,9%.
Misunderstandings about how Umalusi, the national education quality assurance body, “standardises” the matric results. In this standardisation process, raw marks are altered, and South Africa seems to be unique in doing this. According to the local media, in 2010 Umalusi retained “raw” marks in 39 of the 58 subjects that candidates wrote, took marks up in nine subjects and down in 10.
Even more importantly, some question the very core of South African secondary education, with its emphasis on matric results. At the beginning of 2011, young matriculants rushed to universities – which cannot take them all in. The University of Johannesburg reported that 63,400 youngsters have applied for 13,000 places available for first-year students. It’s like that all over the country: hundreds of thousands of students are jostling for fewer than 50,000 places.
Critics of the current education system say that it is time to re-think the secondary education and the post-matric education system. They argue that it would be more beneficial for young people and for the country to have practical high school education, with curriculum designed to meet a range of skills. Armed with such skills, young people could either confidently enter the job market after high school, or pursue further practical tertiary non-university study. That would mean having more training colleges, as well as endeavouring to make them more attractive to students and parents.
Image: Stdents at Potchefstroom campus of the North-West University, source: MediaClub South Africa