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Thoughts on the 2018 Matric Results

Thoughts on the 2018 Matric Results


Last week the Matric class of 2018 received their results. This is what Minister Angie said, “The 2018 NSC overall pass rate, with the progressed learners included, stands at 78.2%, a 3.1% improvement from the 75.1% achieved in 2017. This, represents 400 761 candidates, who had passed the 2018 NSC examination. However, with the progressed learners excluded, the 2018 NSC overall pass rate stands at 79.4%, a 2.9% improvement from the 76.5% achieved in 2017. Well done to the Class of 2018!!!”

I don’t agree with her view of the pass rate of the class of 2018, and will be looking at two crucial factors she conveniently chose to overlook; namely low standard of a Matric pass and the high dropout rate of school students in South Africa.

In terms of the pass mark to attain Matric one needs to do the following:

  • Must obtain at least 40% for your Home Language.
  • Must obtain at least 40% for four other High Credit subjects.
  • Must obtain at least 30% for two other subjects

As you can observe, these are incredibly low standards which don’t open many doors for post school studies. So even if you pass you will not be accepted into any University. A bachelors pass would thus be a better gauge of how well Matrics are really doing as these are the minimum marks required to apply to a university. For the 2018 Matric cohort the Government made it easier to attain a bachelors pass by relaxing the requirements. They currently are:

  • Pass one official language at Home Language level at 40% or more.
  • Pass 4 subjects at 50% or more.
  • Pass 2 other subjects at a minimum of 30%.
  • Meet the language requirement for entry to further study.

This change meant that you could achieve a bachelors pass without getting 50% in Maths! 172 000 of the 512 700 Matrics who wrote achieved this (33.3%).

When one factors in the school drop out rate in South Africa, the picture becomes worse. The current Matric cohort started as 1 002 500 students in Grade 1! Which means roughly half never even made it to Matric. When the Matric results are adjusted for this the real Matric pass rate will be 40% and the bachelor pass rate would be 17%. The below diagram by educationalist Nic Spaull provides an insightful summary:

It must be noted that after Grade 9 In South Africa a student can opt to voluntary leave school and either pursue work or go to a technical college. Hence the above calculation is a bit worse than it actually is. To provide an alternative view we should also look at students who started Grade 10 and passed Matric. This figure is a shocking 37.6%!

When we look at Maths and Physical Science the sadly the picture becomes worse. Maths and Physical Science are key subjects as they are gateway subjects to an array of critical professions our country desperately needs. Without Maths your options at university becomes extremely limited. At UCT for example the only faculty that does not require Maths is Humanities and Law. All other faculties require at least Maths or Maths and Physics. My concerns with Maths and Physical Science is: the number of students choosing to do Maths and Physical Science are declining, the percent of students achieving 50% or more (the minimum mark universities require) and the number of distinctions (the mark Universities require for certain courses such as Actuarial Science and Engineering) is far too low. 

The following illustration demonstrates my concern:

The distinctions for Maths and Physical Science were as follows:

  • 5,828 distinctions in Mathematics, compared to 6 726 in 2017; and
  • 8,135 distinctions in Physical Science, compared to 7,861 in 2017.

How is South Africa ever going to solve its skills shortage?

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