While it is theoretically possible for a pupil to obtain a 30% average and pass, it is extremely unlikely – if not impossible – in reality.
Experts say this belief comes from a misunderstanding of the matric pass requirements. Pupils are not passed or failed on the average of their marks. In order to pass a pupil needs to obtain at least 40% in three subjects (one of which must be a home language), and 30% in three other subjects.
FAQ2: What does the matric pass rate tell us about the quality of education in SA?
While the matric pass rate grabs the most headlines, it is not suitable – when used in isolation – to assess the state of South Africa’s education system as a whole.
The department of basic education concedes this: “Contrary to popular belief, the matric pass rate on its own is not a good measure of academic achievement in the schooling system, nor was the pass rate ever designed for this.”
The matric exam does not allow for year-on-year comparisons of the education system, but rather determines the opportunities a pupil can pursue after school.
FAQ3: What other assessments provide insight into the education system?
No single assessment – such as the matric results – can provide comprehensive insight into South Africa’s education system.
There are a number of datasets available to assess the state of South Africa’s education system. These include, among others, the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ). A 2012 study, which used SACMEQ data, found that while 71% of children in Grade six were functionally literate, only 58.6% could be considered functionally numerate.
In a 2015 study, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, South Africa’s Grade 9 pupils were placed 38th for mathematics and 39th for science out of 39 countries.
FAQ4: How many pupils drop out before writing matric?
A large percentage of South African pupils drop out before writing the final matric exam. For example, when the 2016 matrics started Grade 2 in 2006, there were 1,054,582 of them. (Grade 2 is used as a base year for comparison as the Grade 1 year is unusually large because of the high proportion of pupils that are held back.)
FAQ5: What do people mean when they speak of the ‘real’ matric pass rate?
When people refer to the “real” matric pass rate, they mean the throughput pass rate or the percentage of pupils who started school in Grade 1 that passed matric 12 years later.
The matric pass rate in 2016 was 72.5% but only 37% of public school pupils who were in Grade 1 in 2005 passed their matric examinations. (However, as noted above, the Grade 1 year is unusually large. Using Grade 2 as a based year for comparison 42% passed).
The methodology used to calculate the “real” matric pass rate has been criticised by education economist Martin Gustafsson. South Africa has high repetition rates, with 15% of Grade 1 pupils repeating the year in 2015.
This results in grades swelling due to the repeating pupils. Using these earlier enrollment numbers to calculate the percentage of students that ultimately pass, produces a lower “real” matric pass rate.
FAQ6: What percentage of South African schools are ‘dysfunctional’?
Results from international, standardised tests show that between 75% and 80% of South African schools can’t impart the necessary skills to pupils.
Pupils in these schools are more likely to be functionally illiterate (unable to read a short and simple text and extract its meaning), functionally innumerate (unable to interpret common everyday units of measurement) and that they perform significantly worse in both science and maths.
Have you seen a claim about the matric results that needs checking? Leave a comment below or tweet us: @AfricaCheck.
How well does matric measure the health of our education system by Stephanie Allais
The when and how of leaving school by Martin Gustafsson
A note on matric result trends by Stephen Taylor
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