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Weak matrics culled for better results

NEWS ANALYSIS

Out of the over 616 000 full-time learners who enrolled for matric last year, only 504 303 sat for the final exam in November. Therefore, 112 000 learners did not write the exams. The Mail & Guardian tracked most of them down to a much-abused scheme — the Multiple Examination Opportunity (MEO) — which was started to help struggling learners.

The Mail & Guardian tracked most of them down to a much-abused scheme — the Multiple Examination Opportunity (MEO) — which was started to help struggling learners.

The M&G was unable to access the 2019 national data for the scheme, which has now been cancelled.

In 2018, 624 733 learners enrolled for matric. Of that number, more than 88 000 chose the MEO, which allowed them to write exams split across November 2018 and June 2019. The pass rate was just 7% and there were only three distinctions among the more than 88 000 learners who chose to write their exams this way.

In a written reply to Parliament last year, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said that out of the 88 828 learners who had opted for the MEO in 2018 only 6 354 passed, 73 467 failed and 9 007 did not pitch to write the 2019 June matric exam.

Only 352 passed maths.

Given this failure, Motshekga said last year that the MEO programme will be scrapped from this year because it was not fulfilling its intended purpose.

But this has not stopped 2019 matric learners from opting to write the remainder of their subjects in June 2020.

The M&G tried to find out where the 112 000 learners who didn’t write matric in 2019 ended up. Only four provinces responded to questions about these learners. But it was easy to deduce from the pattern of the four that most learners opted to write over two years and therefore didn’t appear in the matric results.

In Limpopo, for example, just more than 23 000 of the nearly 71 000 learners who enrolled for matric did not write. According to provincial education department spokesperson Sam Makonde, of those who didn’t write more than 22 000 had opted for the MEO.

(John McCann/M&G)

Similarly, in the Northern Cape 11 459 entered matric and 9 138 wrote the final exam, 2 321 did not. Of the latter, 2 019 learners opted to make use of the MEO according to the provincial department’s spokesperson Geoffrey van der Merwe.

Spokesperson for the Mpumalanga department of education Jasper Zwane said that in Mpumalanga, 56 833 learners entered matric, and 13 274 of those did not write the final exams. Of the 13 274, 13224 opted for the MEO

The Western Cape prides itself as the province with the least number of learners who take up the option of the MEO. MEC Debbie Schäfer told the M&G this week that the department only has 3% of learners taking the MEO. There, just under half of the 2 989 learners who did not write the final exam chose the MEO option.

The MEO, introduced in 2015, falls under the Second Chance matric programme, whose aim is to support learners who want to improve their matric results and obtain the National Senior Certificate.

In her announcement scrapping the programme last year, Motshekga said: “We had to acknowledge … that while well intentioned, the Multiple Examination Opportunity is being used by some schools as a gatekeeping mechanism and not for its original intentions.” She said that schools would use it to “cull learners” who would otherwise bring down their pass rate.

Under the Second Chance programme, these learners are meant to receive support as they prepare to write the rest of the exams the following June. But she said schools did not “adequately support them [learners] through the multiple examination opportunities”.

These opportunities ranged from face-to-face classes at 76 centres to educational programmes broadcast on radio and television, as well as online learning materials.

But an interrogtion of these programmes by the M&G showed that they do not appear to be effective at assisting learners.

For example, the number of centres for face-to-face support appeared to be inadequate. The Eastern Cape has 12 education districts but only four centres, all of which are in the former Transkei. Even then, these centres are not enough to cover even that area and its schools. For example, one centre is in Mount Fletcher, which falls under the Joe Gqabi district, which has 67 schools.

Gauteng has the largest number of districts in the country with 15 but it only has eight centres. There is only one centre in Soweto, the biggest township in the country.

The centres offer 12-hour face-to-face classes. Those who do not have access to face-to-face classes have to rely on online services — which might not be possible with high data costs.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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