Matric Results Require Careful Scrutiny

Equal Education congratulates the approximately 348 257 learners who passed the 2011 matric examinations. We also congratulate the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, the Department of Basic Education, the MECs and provincial departments, and Umalusi on the smooth running of the 2011 examination and standardisation process.

While the improvement in the matric pass rate to 70.2 percent is being celebrated, we advise caution.  The overall pass rate is a red herring.

A number of concerns stand out at this early stage:

The total number of matric candidates dropped from 537,543 in 2010 to 496,090 in 2011. This is a drop of 41 453 students or eight percent. This overshadows the 2.4 percent increase in the overall pass-rate. One of the reasons for this decrease is that the obsession with the overall pass-rate results in a national culture of schools encouraging weaker students not to write the examinations.

At least 923,463 learners began grade 1 in 2000 but only 496,090 wrote matric in 2011. Therefore nearly half dropped out of school along the way. Thus, the pass-rate of 70.2 percent, when measured against all those who began school in 2000 reveals a true pass-rate of approximately 38 percent. This is an improvement on 2010 but still a sobering statistic.

The trend in mathematics continues to be the key story and a major source of concern. This table, extracted from the Department's 2011 Technical Report, is worth studying:

  2009 2010 2011
  Total wrote Passed at 30 percent% or more % Passed at 30% or more Total wrote Passed at 30% or more % Passed at 30% or more Total wrote Passed at 30% or more % Passed at 30% or more
Maths literacy 277 677 207 326 74.7% 280 836 241 576 86.0% 275 380 236 548 85.9%

290 407 133 505 46% 263034 124 749 47.4% 224635 104 033 46.3%

Note the decline in those writing and passing maths.

The total number of matric candidates that passed mathematics dropped from 124 749 in 2010 to 104 033 in 2011. This is a decline of 20 716 or 17 percent. This continues a trend seen in 2010 when the number of passes dropped from 133 505 in 2009 to 124 749 in 2010. The maths pass-rate declined to 46.3 percent, but at only 104 033 passes in 2011, the reality is that only about 1 in 5 of all matriculants achieved a pass in maths. And it must be remembered that a pass-mark is 30 percent. Therefore, just 21 percent of all those who wrote matric got above 30 percent for mathematics. When one considers that mathematics is a crucial skill and gateway to science, medicine, commerce, engineering and many other vital parts of the economy, this trend is extremely worrying. Maths literacy, whilst useful, is not a substitute.

It must also be remembered, as Equal Education pointed out a year ago, that the ongoing massive decline in mathematics candidates correlates with the increase in the overall pass-rate. Simply put, less students writing mathematics and more students writing maths literacy will correspondent to an improving overall matric pass rate. Such an increase is artificial.

A thorough study of the 2011 Technical Report, and data that has not yet been made available to the public, is needed before drawing any firm conclusions. The kinds of questions we pose above need to be posed across provinces and districts. We do not want to pour cold water on the pride the Minister and Department feel in the results. There may indeed be areas in which celebrations are justified.

For more information or comment contact:

Jon Hodgson
Mobile: 072 345 6775

Yoliswa Dwane
Mobile: 072 342 7747

Doron Isaacs
Mobile: 082 850  2111

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Date published: 
Monday, 9 January, 2012
Equal Education

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