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Can you really pass matric with a 30% average? The claim is misleading

Comments 4

Do you “only need 30% to pass matric” in South Africa? It is a claim you hear every year at this time and one that has been given credence on social media and by some academics and politicians. But the claim is misleading. Here’s why.

Researched by Kate Wilkinson

The release of final year school exam results in South Africa is frequently met with a dismissive chorus of “you only need 30% to pass matric”. This year was no different, helped along by Twitter and Facebook.

The claim is not a new one. And it has been given credence by academics like Professor Jonathan Jansen – the vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State and a prominent education commentator – who was quoted saying last year that “[i]t’s an absolute disgrace that you can pass matric with a mark of 30 percent”.

But is it correct?

Misguided comments

“This idea that you only need a 30% average to pass matric is simply not true,” said Nicholas Spaull, an education researcher from Stellenbosch University.

Pupils are required to take a minimum of seven subjects. These include three compulsory subjects – usually a first language, a first additional language, mathematics or mathematical literacy and life orientation.

“You need 40% in three subjects (one of which must be your home language), and 30% in 3 other subjects,” Spaull said.  If a pupil meets that bare minimum, they will pass even if they fail their seventh subject.

Basil Manuel, president of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, echoed Spaull’s comments. “Unfortunately it’s a nice story and the public grasps [at] it but you can’t pass matric with 30%,” he said.

Leketi Makalela, an associate professor at Wits University’s School of Education, said references to a 30% pass “comes from a lack of understanding of the pass requirements for matric”.

Minimum requirements

Higher Education South Africa has stated that only a “miniscule number” of pupils pass at the lowest possible level. In 2014 this amounted to 411 pupils or 0.1% of those who wrote matric exams.

“If the learner does not satisfy the minimum subject requirements, he will not be awarded with the [National Senior Certificate], even though he may have attained an exceptionally high mark in one or two of the other subjects,” explained Elijah Mhlanga, a spokesman for the Department of Basic Education.

“No averaging of marks”

Mhlanga said that averages don’t determine whether a pupil passes matric. “There is no averaging of marks in the [National Senior Certificate exams]… No learner will be awarded a [National Senior Certificate] if he attains 30%.”

Technically speaking, if a pupil met the minimum requirements and obtained 40% for three subjects (one being a home language), 30% for three subjects and 0% for a seventh subject, then then they would pass with a 30% average.

But Manuel said that this was impossible. “A pupil can’t get 0% for a subject because they have to complete a school-based assessment and the exam. I have never heard of a youngster getting 0% as a final mark,” he said.

Conclusion – The claim is misleading

While it is theoretically possible for a pupil to obtain a 30% average and pass, it is extremely unlikely – if not impossible – in reality.

And a matric pass at the lowest possible level won’t get you into a technical college, university or any other tertiary institution.

One of the most pressing challenges facing South Africa’s education system isn’t who passes or fails the final exams but the large numbers of pupils who drop out long before they get to matric.

Edited by Julian Rademeyer

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Comment on this report

Comments 4
  1. By Sista d Hlongwane

    I had to laugh at Mr Spaull answer before commenting. Dear sir, the comments are not misguiding , you just do not read between the lines. We are voicing out our concern of the minimum pass rate of a subject, because it means that a student only need to know 30% ofhis or her work and the other 70% is vital. The problem here is South Africa’sgoverment is trying to push for high pass rate rather than produce competent student, who are responsible for the real GDP of this country. Dear Sir, that pass mark rate should be flashed. South Africa invest more in education than any other country in Africa yet the pass rate is alarming. The peoblem is where the bar is set by the educatiobal system! Aggggh! What the heck , nobody cares

    • By Shona

      I agree with you totally. I have recently found out that no teacher is allowed to give a student zero for not submitting an assignment on time. Our education department is teaching students that it is OK to ignore deadlines. By having such low pass minimums the department is also advocating mediocrity! I shudder to think what the next generation of adults will do to this country!

  2. By Aphelele

    It is verry fair because we are not all academically gifted.


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