Zille’s right: All W Cape matrics who passed eligible for tertiary education – but so are North West’s

The premier of South Africa’s Western Cape province has claimed that for the first time in South Africa’s democracy all the pupils who passed their school leaving exam in the province were eligible for tertiary education. Is she right?

South Africa’s matric results are out: Just over 70% of pupils passed. The Western Cape province, run by opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA), came top of the class with a pass rate of 84.7%.

Following the release of the results, Western Cape premier and former DA leader, Helen Zille tweeted: “Big news item and first time in SA’s democracy: every learner who passed matric in WCape did well enough to get access to higher education.”

What did Zille mean by “access”? And is her claim true? We dug into the matric results archives to find out.

Access or eligible?

Many people took issue with Zille’s use of the word “access”, saying that it suggested that pupils who passed would be able to pursue tertiary education. They pointed out that their places were not secured and that the pupils had merely achieved passes that made them eligible to apply.

DA member of parliament and shadow minister of basic education, Gavin Davis, later clarified the statement saying that“100% of learners in the province who passed qualified for tertiary education”.

Four possible ways to pass matric

There are four possible ways to pass matric: a national senior certificate pass, a higher certificate pass, a diploma pass and a bachelor degree pass. These define the higher learning opportunities a pupil is eligible for after school.

To receive a national senior certificate pass, a pupil must achieve 40% in three subjects (one of which must a home language) and 30% in three other subjects. The seventh subject can be failed. Nationally 72 pupils achieved this pass in 2015.

With this pass a pupil does not qualify to pursue a higher certificate, diploma or degree at a higher learning institution.

First time for the Western Cape

Zille’s initial tweet was somewhat ambiguous. Did she mean that this is the first time it has happened in South Africa or in the Western Cape? However the next day she sent out a tweet in which she said: “I am saying that for the 1st time in WCape 100% of those who passed did.”

Results from the department of basic education show that Zille is correct for the performance of Western Cape pupils since the national senior certificate was introduced in 2008.

Last year was the first year that all pupils who passed were eligible for tertiary education. 

It’s been done before

The Western Cape isn’t the first province to achieve all of its passes above senior certificate level, however. It’s been done before.

In 2011, all of the pupils who passed matric in the Northern Cape and North West provinces qualified for tertiary education. The Northern Cape managed to extend this to a three year run in 2012 and 2013.

Like the Western Cape, all of the North West’s matrics who passed in 2015 are eligible for tertiary education.

Conclusion: Zille correct for Western Cape pupils’ performance

Zille is correct about Western Cape pupils’ performance. The class of 2015 are the first of which all the pupils who passed are eligible for some form of tertiary education. (Note: They came pretty close in 2008 with only one pupil achieving the lowest possible pass.)

It’s not the first time that it has been done in the country, however. The Northern Cape and North West provinces first achieved this in 2011.

Edited by Anim van Wyk.


Additional Reading

Frequently asked questions about SA’s matric results answered

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

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

GUIDE: Assessing South Africa’s matric exam results


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