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2014 SONA claims revisited: Zuma on education

South African president Jacob Zuma is due to deliver his eighth State of the Nation Address in parliament on Thursday. Last year he delivered two State of the Nation Addresses – one before and one after the country’s national elections in May. This report looks back at the claims he made about education.

‘One new school a week’

The claim: “We opened at least one new school a week in the Eastern Cape last year [2013] and will continue to eradicate mud schools and other inappropriate structures.”

Our verdict: False

An Africa Check investigation into the department of basic education’s “one school a week” campaign revealed that education officials had staged ceremonial school “hand-overs” months after many of the schools had actually opened their doors.

Africa Check spoke to 11 schools, which the department claims it “delivered” in 11 weeks. At face value, it seems an impressive achievement. But the real delivery dates (when learning and teaching actually commenced in the schools) showed that the department only delivered those 11 schools over 12 months.

In one instance, a school had been open for a full year before a formal opening ceremony was held. And at least two schools were declared “open” even though construction had not been completed.

By scheduling ceremonial openings to take place week after week, the department created the misleading impression that it was opening a new school a week. In reality, many schools promised by Zuma in the Eastern Cape had failed to materialise.

Matric pass rate up

The claim: “The matric pass rate has gone up from around 61% in 2009 to 78% last year [2013] and the bachelor passes improve each year.”

Our verdict: Partially true

The first part of Zuma’s claim was true. In 2009 the matric pass rate was 60.6%. It increased to 78.2% in 2013.

However, South Africa’s high dropout rate means that many young people never get the chance to write their matric examinations, let alone pass them. When the matric class of 2013 started grade two in 2003 there were 1,111,858 pupils. But by the time they came to sit for their final exams their numbers had fallen to 562,112. (The latest figures from 2014 show that when the 2014 matrics started grade two in 2004, there were 1,085,570 of them. Only 532,860 pupils remained to write their final matric exams.)

The second part of Zuma’s claim was false. Bachelor passes had not improved consistently each year since 2009. According to the education department, the number of bachelor passes increased from 109,697 in 2009 to 126,371 in 2010.

But in 2011 the number of bachelor passes dipped to 120,767, before increasing to 136,047 in 2012 and 171,755 in 2013. (The most recent data shows that 150,752 pupils achieved a bachelor pass in 2014.)

Number of children in Grade R has ‘more than doubled’

The claim: “The number of children attending Grade R has more than doubled, moving from about 300,000 to more than 700,000 between 2003 and 2011.”

Our verdict: True

In 2003 there were 315,387 pupils enrolled in Grade R, according to the department of basic education. By 2011, enrolment had increased to 734,654. These figures include both public and independent schools. (The most recent data shows that 813,044 students were enrolled in Grade R in 2014.)

University enrolments increased

The claim: “Student enrolments at universities increased by 12% while Further Education and Training college enrolments have increased by 90%.”

Our verdict: True

Zuma did not give dates for the increases but his claim appeared to have been supported by the department of higher education and training’s 2012/13 annual report. It stated that student enrolment at universities had increased by 12% from 837,779 in 2009 to 938,201 in 2012/13.

However, demand for university education far outweighs the number of places available. In 2013, the University of the Witwatersrand received over 35,000 applications for approximately 5,500 first year places.

Further Education and Training College enrolments increased from 345,566 in 2010 to 657,690 in 2012/13 – a 90.3% increase.

Additional reading

Report: President Jacob Zuma’s sixth State of the Nation address fact-checked

Report: Wrapping up the [7th] State of the Nation

Report: How South Africa’s department of basic education is misleading the public

Report: Why the matric pass rate is not a reliable benchmark of education quality

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