Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. (Photo: Gallo Images/Papi Morake)
Record-breaking matric results: SA youth are overcoming adversity
The matric class of 2023 has achieved the highest-ever pass rate of 82.9% — up from 80.1% in the previous year — despite the obstacles put before them. The announcement comes at the end of a challenging academic period marked by unprecedented global circumstances like the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as ongoing local challenges: load-shedding, water shortages, floods and sporadic service delivery protests.
Announcing the results on 18 January 2024, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga praised the nearly 900 000 candidates for their “unquestionable resilience” in the face of these challenges.
“The Class of 2023 has clearly demonstrated that with all [the] requisite support and intervention programmes, we can make it,” Motshekga stated proudly. “This cohort was exposed to Covid-19 while they were in grades nine and 10 in 2020 and 2021, respectively, thus placing them at the eye of the storm. Their ability to cope during those extremely difficult academic and psycho-emotional draining years is the manifestation of their fortitude and burning desire to improve their prospects.”
She said despite the adversities they faced, students across the country have shown resilience and determination in their pursuit of academic excellence. Also commended were the educators, parents, and all other stakeholders who played a crucial role in supporting the learners throughout the academic year.
For the 2023 academic year, the Free State province achieved the highest pass rate of 89%, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 86.4% and Gauteng with 85.4%. The lowest pass rate was recorded by the Northern Cape with 75.8%. Motshekga said the past 10 years have seen the National Senior Certificate (NSC) pass rate climb, up from 60% in 2009 to above 80% in recent years.
This cohort also attained a record number of Bachelor’s passes, with 282 894 candidates now eligible for university studies. The three most rural provinces — Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo — accounted for over 50% of these passes, which, she says “dispels the myth that quality education is a characteristic of urban provinces”.
The number of NSC candidates obtaining Bachelor passes has nearly tripled since 2008, Motshekga added, with the strongest growth coming from “no fee” schools, which contributed more than 65% of the Bachelor passes.
The Independent Examinations Board (IEB), which administers exams for private schools, reported a pass rate of 98.46%, slightly higher than 98.42% in 2023.
Looking back at the progress made
Motshekga also took a moment to reflect on the progress made over the past three decades: “Without any shadow of doubt we can confidently state that the past 30 years have been years of unequivocal progress in the education of the people of South Africa, with the government continuously and consistently implementing policies, programmes and interventions that clearly demonstrate unwavering commitment to expand and enhance Basic Education.”
This, she said, was achieved through the implementation of the social justice principles of access, equity, redress, inclusivity, quality and efficiency, “which over the years, have yielded remarkable outcomes”.
She said access to educational institutions has expanded steadily: “Not only do more young people attend and complete schooling than ever before, but access to early learning opportunities has expanded dramatically.”
This, she says, is true for learners of all ages: “Recent StatsSA surveys reveal that early childhood development (ECD) opportunities have also surged. For instance, enrolments in early childhood education for five-year-olds have surged from 40% in 2002 to 90% in 2021. Over 98% of learners who are seven to 15 years of age have been attending educational institutions since 2009, signalling a near-universal attendance rate for compulsory education in South Africa.”
She emphasised that just 10% of black South Africans born in the 1950s and 1960s completed 12 years of education, with this figure rising to approximately 30% for those born in the 1980s. “According to 2021 General Household Survey data, nearly 60% of young black South Africans now attain this milestone — this means six in 10 South Africans complete Grade 12.”
Deputy Minister of Basic Education Reginah Mhaule echoed that these outcomes called for celebration. “Our finest hour is upon us! We triumphed against the doom and gloom that engulfed our sector during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond,” she said.
Both ministers credited the extensive support programmes implemented by the Department of Basic Education for mitigating the effects of the pandemic. Targeted interventions helped equip poorer schools and improve performance in key subjects such as mathematics, science and accounting.
Looking forward to what needs to be done
But admittedly, challenges remain, particularly in foundational skills like reading and numeracy. Motshekga stated the department aims to further strengthen ECD as the vital building block for lifelong learning. “The next phase in the Basic Education landscape is to continue to ramp up ECD programmes and focus on [the] foundational skills of reading, writing and counting, as well as diversifying the curriculum for the skills and competencies of a changing world, to continue to address the factors leading to the high failure and drop-out rates.”
She added that this would be aided by the imminent approval of the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, which will make grade R compulsory for all learners, “thus giving us an opportunity to further strengthen the foundations for learning”.
As for the future, Motshekga and her team have the following goal, as outlined in the National Development Plan: “By 2030, South Africans should have access to education and training of the highest quality, leading to significantly improved learners’ outcomes. The performance of South African learners in international standardised tests should be comparable to the performance of learners from countries at a similar level of development, and with similar levels of access.”
Motshekga said that the matric results point towards the education system overcoming adversity and continuing its upward trajectory, but acknowledges that sustained effort across society is needed to equip South Africa’s youth for a rapidly changing world. She concluded that “the future of our learners, and the prosperity of our nation, are in our hands”, adding that this would need to be a collective effort from all corners of society.
Second chances do exist
Deputy Minister of Basic Education Reginah Mhaule praised learners for their determination and urged those who did not achieve their desired outcomes in these exams to make use of second-chance programmes. “It is never too late to succeed. You are never too old to achieve your goals.”
This was echoed by Motshekga, who said that candidates should embrace the opportunities available to them: “Do not despair! There are lots of life chances available.”
The Second Chance Matric Programme is an initiative by the Department of Basic Education to provide support to learners who have not been able to meet the requirements of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) or the Senior Certificate (SC) and obtain a grade 12 matric certificate.
Learners can register to rewrite matric subjects in March, June or November, depending on their eligibility. They can access face-to-face classes, online programmes, television and radio broadcasts, and other resources to prepare for the exams and improve their computer skills, job opportunities, career paths and access to bursary opportunities for further studies.
If you are interested in the Second Chance Matric Programme, you can contact the Department of Basic Education through the following channels:
Email: [email protected]
WhatsApp: +27 63 696 7246 (Administration related: no voice notes)
WozaMatrics WhatsApp: 061 505 3023 (Subject-related queries)