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Passes – and doubts – soar

Despite the overall increase in the 2003 matric pass rate, key stakeholders remain deeply sceptical about the overall health of the school system, the worth of the exam and the marking process itself.

Teacher unions paid tribute to the Ministry and Department of Education’s running of the matric exams, but drew attention to radical problems of inequity that still bedevil the country’s schooling and disadvantage the poor. Some also questioned the legitimacy of the statistics.

And business lashed the value of the exam itself. ”When we employ people straight from matric,” said James Lennox, CEO of the South African Chamber of Business, ”we find that they simply do not have the depth to get by and we have to invest more resources to train them to be productive. Candidates say they can speak and write a language, but we find that level of communication so superficial it barely counts.”

Minister of Education Kader Asmal announced on Tuesday an overall pass rate of 73,3% – up from 68,9% in 2002. University-entrance passes were 18,6%, up from 16,9% last year.

”The 2003 results are undoubtedly a motion of confidence for public education and must be attributed to the fact that thousands of township and rural schools are now working well,” Asmal said.

He reported an increase in the number of girls who wrote the exam – 54% of all candidates – and in their pass rate, up from 60% in 2001 to 72% in 2003.

Welcoming the increase in the overall pass rate, the South African Democratic Teachers’s Union (Sadtu) secretariat expressed ”full confidence in the marking process”, said ”South Africa now has in place a truly national and credible examinations system”, and accorded ”full credit” to the ministry and department.

But the importance accorded the exam remains a problem, Sadtu said. ”It is ironic that the public ritual of matric results continues to hold such an exalted status in the education firmament.” As an exit exam that failed more than 100 000 candidates, ”it runs contrary to the whole philosophy of Curriculum 2005 and outcomes-based education, with its [OBE’s] commitment to developmental continuous assessment.”

Steven Roux, vice-president of the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie, said ”the problems come after the exam when the papers are marked and the marks adjusted. It is not a transparent procedure, and who knows what happens during that whole process?”

Like Sadtu, the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa praised the ministry and department. Executive director Henry Hendriks credited the government ”for turning education around”.

But for the workplace, matric ”is not relevant enough to prepare learners in an ever-changing business environment”, Lennox said.

”At the moment, South Africa”s matric qualification is not making the grade – what we need is a Nedlac-type review where all role- players, such as educationists, labour and businesspeople, come together to determine what is needed to prepare our children for the world beyond school.”

Those who passed ”face a difficult future in the job market”, Sadtu said. The union also drew attention to ”the many who, due to poverty, dropped out even before reaching matric”, and to major disparities between provinces. The Northern Cape, Gauteng and the Western Cape performed best, but the much lower pass rates in Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape ”cry out for further investigation”.

The continuing low numbers of maths and science passing candidates are also a concern, Sadtu said: only 150 000 passed.

And the union ”has since 1999 pleaded for more information regarding the overall reduction” in the numbers of students enrolling for matric: 511 474 wrote in 1999; 440 267 wrote in 2003. Sadtu also called for answers to:

  • why learners drop out before matric;
  • what happens to candidates who fail, now that they are prevented from returning to school;
  • the extent to which school fees form a barrier for poor learners.

Additional reporting by Yolandi Groenewald and Nicola Mawson

 

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David Macfarlane
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