Columns 6.1.2017 06:05 am

Other side of the matric coin

FILE PICTURE: Rhoda Kadalie, anti-apartheid activist.

FILE PICTURE: Rhoda Kadalie, anti-apartheid activist.

If, with some support, they are able to proceed to matric, what stopped the department from giving the same students that support in Grade 11?

The matriculation results are out and beg scrutiny.

More important than the 71% matric pass rate are the numbers of students who dropped out on the way from Grade 1 to Grade 12– out of the 1.1 million who enrolled in Grade 1, around 600 000 passed matric. This is a recurrent pattern that no one seems able to address.

Last year, something like half a million kids dropped out. Does anyone track what happens to this vast number of dropouts?

The second, more pernicious aspect of the education system is the high number of Grade 11 failures pushed into Grade 12. The euphemism is “progressed students” and they amounted to 109 000. Allegedly their results were not processed separately, which might have dire effects on national averages. This alone makes the matric results highly suspect.

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On television, Mary Metcalfe announced that the adjustment of matric results was not political: It’s “to ensure standardisation and fairness”. I’m not convinced and refer you to DA MP Gavin Davis’s crucial questions about Umalusi’s verification process:

  • How are “progressed” pupils assessed in their matric performance? If, with some support, they are able to proceed to matric, what stopped the department from giving the same students that support in Grade 11?
  •  The fact remains that there is a huge adjustment process taking place despite Umalusi’s claims of a rigorous verification process – which is as opaque as the achievement of differentiated pass marks from province to province. I just cannot accept that Limpopo beats the Western Cape (WC), when the latter’s schools and level of teaching are so much higher than Limpopo’s, evidenced by the critical mass of excellent students from the WC.
  • While the raw marks – what students achieved in an exam – were lower than last year, how, asks Davis, were these adjusted? “It would be interesting to hear, in the case of each adjustment, what made that case exceptional. Because it seemed to me, as an observer, that some adjustments were made as a matter of routine, rather than exception,” Davis said. “Out of 58 subjects, 32 were adjusted allegedly by 30%. Only 26 retained the raw mark.”

This is cause for concern.

Surely the department of higher education’s own report on the exceptionally high failure rate of students at 23 out of the 26 universities should be a national cause for concern? The graduation rates range from 15% to 20%; more than 85% of all undergraduates who enrol fail and drop out. Even master’s degree students drop out at a significantly high number (80%).

The seeming assumption is that when students reach master’s level, they are capable of managing research and independent study. Not so.

The bottom line is this: SA is sitting with an unemployment rate of 27.1% that spikes up rather than goes down. The vast army of unemployed is the youth, who lack the skills to become unemployable. To cite the Free Market Foundation (FMF): “From being the 42nd most economically free country in the world, South Africa has fallen to 105th in only 14 years. The consequences in lost opportunities and the increase in unemployment and destitution is visible all around us.”

The low rate of students at FET colleges is equally dire. In all of this, it seems we have an ANC government that cares less about black kids than did the apartheid government. To date, they have thrown money at the problem but have refused to call a high-panel advisory committee to address the matter.

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