While President Jacob Zuma described the increase in the 2010 matric rate as "an exciting day for the country" and many other commentators applauded the 67.8%% pass rate, others had questions about the 7.2% improvement compared to 2009. Zuma said the improvement indicated that government was on the right track. "We are delighted with this significant improvement from the 2009 pass rate. This takes us somewhere closer to the 80& target for 2014."
Zuma congratulated the 2010 matrics, education authorities and teachers for their work during a "challenging year". "It is an exciting day for government and for the nation," he said. "Education is an apex priority of government and we are determined to continue investing a lot of time, money and other resources to it."
Zuma urged matrics who failed not to give up. "This doesn't mean the end of the world. Many people have been in a similar situation that you are in today, and they emerged successful after another attempt."
Zuma called on principals and teachers to ensure lessons got underway without delay when schools re-open next week. "The (education) department should also ensure the availability of learning materials timeously, we cannot afford to waste any time so that we can continue to do better each year," he said.
In it's response, the Democratic Alliance said the improvement was encouraging and "hopefully" the beginning of a more positive trend in South African education. DA MP Wilmot James said on Thursday: "The fact that nearly 30,000 additional students received matric passes this year is an encouraging development, and we can only hope that this represents the beginning of a more positive trend in South African education in the years to come," said James who sits on Parliament's committee for basic education.
The "very many positive trends" in the figures would require close scrutiny, he said. "We need, on the one hand, to identify the root causes of encouraging developments, to ensure that we replicate them elsewhere. Likewise, we need to examine certain more concerning aspects of the data, with a view to addressing those problems.
"We will need to examine the fact that 14,500 fewer candidates sat National Senior Certificate exams in 2010, compared to the previous year. Only the Western Cape and Limpopo registered increases in the absolute number of full-time candidates writing exams, while the number of full-time candidates in other provinces declined year-on-year in many cases, sharply."
Independent Democrats MP Haniff Hoosen welcomed the 67.8 percent national matric pass rate, saying the class of 2010 had to endure more challenges in their senior year than any other matric class. "Despite the disruptive public servant strike and the Soccer World Cup that saw matric learners out of the classroom for longer than usual and left schools to come up with their own recovery plans, it is especially comforting to see that the Northern Cape has made the biggest improvement from the 61.3 percent pass rate of 2009 to the current 72.3 percent.
"We congratulate all the role players in education in SA on the increased pass rate, and especially the 504 schools that achieved a 100 percent pass." Hoosen said it was "concerning" that 18 schools in the country had a zero pass rate. "The ID calls for urgent investigations into the cause of such a dismal performance. "Sadly, the two worst performing provinces, viz Eastern Cape and Limpopo are the two provinces with the highest levels of poverty and unless urgent corrective measures are undertaken in these provinces, the cycle of poverty will continue to plague the millions of people in these provinces."
Meanwhile, executive dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Johannesburg, Professor Sarah Gravett, said while experts expected an improvement, they did not expect to see such a "significant jump". "The interventions from the department of education are starting to bear fruit which is good. We're in the third year of this exam and there seems to be a better understanding from teachers. There were also exam papers from two years ago that assisted learners in preparation for their exams last year."
Gravett said the matric results don't only reflect the matric year, but reflect the 12 years of schooling and therefore if the department wants to see enduring change in the education system, there must be a strong focus on the early years of schooling to ensure that a solid foundation is created. "......and the interventions that have been put in place in the past few years in schools, particularly those schools with weak results, seem to be bearing fruit. One would expect the department to continue with these types of interventions and support.
"It's a pity that we see only the matric results as an indication of how well our schooling system is doing. That's not the only indicator. One should look at the marks, yes, but also look at the quality of the learners that come out of the system and how well they cope with the post school demands," she said.
Chief research specialist at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Michael Cosser, said while the World Cup and the strike had an impact on many, the department of education ensured that education was still a priority. "This has been a long time coming and it is because of the concerted focus on education. When the new curriculum was introduced, things were a bit shaky, but things are beginning to stabilise. We will see in the next two years how things progress."
Cosser cautioned that the chances of this year's matric pupils getting into the job market were quite poor. In 2006, Cosser found that only 21 percent of those who passed matric were able to enter the job market. He urged those who were unable to get into higher education institutions to go through further education and training facilities to boost their chances of getting employment.
Professor Zola Vakalisa, from the School of Arts, Education Languages and Communication at the University of South Africa (Unisa), said it is important for the department to monitor schools throughout the year to ensure that marks, even in the foundation phases, improve. She added that South Africa has the capacity and facilities to improve its education system compared to other African countries.
"This jump is incredible. But the department still needs to monitor its teachers and ensure that they are at school teaching our children. Parents also need to be given the opportunity to sit through lessons and understand what their children are being taught. There are still challenges that need to be addressed and if they are not, we will be doing our children a disservice, especially those from poor families," said Vakalisa.
According to Dr Vijay Reddy, head of the research programme on Education and Skills Development at the HSRC, far more detail is still needed to understand and better analyse the results. "We need to look at the technical report in an effort to understand the reasons for this massive improvement. Between 2002 and 2004, the pass rate stood at 70 and 71 percent and between 2005 and 2009, there was a major decrease. Looking at the whole system, we expected an increase of 1 to 2 percent. We need to look at how this increase of 7.2 percent occurred."
This significant increase could be attributed to a number of factors, said Reddy, that of a massive improvement in the education system and the fact that education has been made a priority by government and society. "This was a complete surprise, so the technical report will give us a better understanding of the results and why this big jump occurred," she explains. SAPA/VOC.
Published online: The Voice of the Cape:2011-01-06
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