Basic education minister Angie Motshekga announced the results on Tuesday night, revealing that the class of 2019 obtained an 81.3% pass rate — up from 78.2% in 2018.
Motshekga lauded this attainment as a “milestone” for the system.
“This is a humbling, heart-warming and also an encouraging achievement. To maintain, or even go higher than this pass mark, will be definitely be a tall order.”
The biggest winners were no-fee schools (government schools that cannot refuse entry to students without money). Motshekga said these schools produced 248 960 passes and that their bachelor passes stand at 96 922 — an increase of 14.4 percentage points from 2018.
The minister said that, in 2005, 60% of bachelor passes — which allow you to apply for university — came from the best performing 20% of schools. Now, 55% of bachelor passes come from no-fee schools. This, she said, was “remarkable”.
Motshekga said the learners of class of 2019 were offered various support to ensure their success. This included vacation classes — which the Mail & Guardian understands was the biggest learner support programme — benefiting about 40% students of the class of 2019.
Nearly 800 000 learners sat for the national senior certificate, with the highest number (116 937) of those sitting in KwaZulu-Natal. This was followed by Gauteng at 97 829, Limpopo at 70 847 and the Eastern Cape at 63 198.
There were more female learners who wrote matric this year, now making up 339 249 of all students.
Motshekga also revealed that 84.6% of the class of 2019 were part of the class that entered grade 1 in 2008.
The Eastern Cape, which has consistently been at the bottom of the ranking when it comes to results over the years, is the most improved province with a 76.5% pass rate — a 5.9 percentage point increase.
The North West also made a noticeable improvement, with an 86.3% pass rate, as did KwaZulu-Natal, with an 81.3% pass rate. That represents 5.6 and 5.1 percentage point increases, respectively.
The best performing province was the Free State, with an 88.4% pass rate — a 0.9 percentage point increase from last year.
KwaZulu-Natal recorded the highest number of bachelor passes and distinctions, at 44 189 and 41 910, respectively. The total number of distinctions nationally was 156 884, with 186 058 bachelor passes.
Gauteng is the only province which saw a slight decrease in performance — of 0.7 percentage points from 2018 — dropping to an 87.2% pass rate. But six of the top 10 best performing districts are in the province. The number one district in the country, Tshwane South in Gauteng, achieved a 93.3% pass rate. No district in the province obtained less than a 60% pass rate.
Motshekga said she was also pleased with the performance of the 2 576 special needs learners who sat for the exams, with 1 281 of them achieving bachelor passes and 1 277 of them receiving distinctions in crucial subjects such as mathematics, physical science and accounting.
Although teachers’ unions welcomed the improvements in the results, they have also cautioned that there are systemic issues that need to be addressed before they can say the public education system has stabilised fully.
South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said credit needs to go to the teachers for the hard work they continuously put in.
“However, we want to [cut down] on the competition between provinces,” Maluleke said.
The desire to be the top-ranked province meant that schools were taking steps such as reducing the numbers of students writing mathematics, so they could push them into taking maths literacy instead, which is perceived as an “easier” subject.
“That should not be the focus: our focus should be on building resilience on learners so that they pass from quality learning rather than being pushed to come with results that glorify individuals,” Maluleke said.
“Education is not politics, it is about the quality of life and building our economy,” he added.
Malulele also said that although it was encouraging that the no-fee schools are performing better, teachers should not be sacrificing their family time, weekends and holidays to give extra classes to matric learners. He said all teaching needs to happen in the classroom during teaching hours.
National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) executive director Basil Manuel said that, given the fact that a number of learners in the system are not academically inclined, the country cannot expect a further increase from 81.3% pass rate.
“I think we have reached the ceiling now: anybody expecting more it means they do not understand the system,” he said. “Naptosa is happy, but we believe that quality passes can be achieved at the top if you improve the bottom.”