Matric results lay bare inequalities

The uneven matric results for 2008 show that despite a drastic curriculum change, the South African education system is still plagued by problems rooted in the apartheid era, observers said on Tuesday.

Vijay Reddy from the Human Sciences Research Council said the 2,7% drop in the matric pass rate to 62,5% was “very worrying because it means that 38%, or four out of ten, have failed”.

However Reddy said it was “admirable” that university entry passes increased by 4% for the first batch of matrics to have completed school under the much-contested outcomes-based education (OBE) system.

Seen side by side, the two figures proved that the inequalities of the past persist because students from better resourced schools were better able to adapt to the OBE programme, Reddy said.

“We are seeing that pupils who were doing well have improved and that those who were performing poorly have been further disadvantaged under the new system.

“One of the aims of the new system was to level the playing fields but it will take more than one generation of outcomes-based education to achieve that.”

Milnerton High School headmaster Paul Besener agreed, saying the results of the first matrics to write the new national senior certificate confirmed expectations that most traditionally advantaged schools would adapt smoothly to the new curriculum.

The Western Cape provincial education minister, Yousuf Gabru, said it was cause for concern that the number of schools with pass rates of less than 60% had suddenly increased by nearly 20% compared to 2007.

“The results show that we still have a long way to go to ensure access to success in all schools.”

‘Culture of learning’
Brian O’Connell, the rector of the University of the Western Cape, said the 2008 matric results should not be blamed on historical inequalities but should serve as a warning of a crisis in the South African education system.

“There is nothing surprising in the results.
We have no right to expect them to be any different.” he said.

The problem, O’Connell said, was the political failure to build a post-apartheid culture of learning to make up for lost decades when education was a tug of war.

“We should stop throwing around the resources thing and ask why we don’t have a strong national culture of learning, instilled from the presidency downwards.

“We have no leadership in schools and we have no quality control.”

O’Connell said though the new curriculum had been improved for the last years of high school it should be adjusted throughout, as matriculants still arrived at university with poor cognitive skills and battled to cope with academic challenges.

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said it was heartening that those matrics who passed did so with better results this year and that more of them could now proceed to university.

“It appears as if the long, hard climb towards an improvement in the quality [rather than just the quantity] of matric passes may have begun,” she said.

But Zille said not all South Africans were getting an equal start in school.

“There is a long way to go before every school pupil is given real opportunities to improve their lives through quality education. This should be a birthright of every South African, and we have a long, difficult road that lies ahead to attain it.” - Sapa

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