24% of matrics would have passed if pass mark was 50%

2014-01-12 14:00

That’s what the matric pass rate would have been if the pass mark was 50%

Between 22% and 24%?–?that’s how many of South Africa’s matriculants would probably have passed had they been forced to score at least 50% for each subject.

City Press asked top statisticians to work out what the pass rate would have been if University of the Free State Vice-Chancellor Jonathan Jansen and other analysts got their wish of the matric subject pass marks being pegged at 50%.

The senior statisticians spoke to City Press on condition of anonymity.

They based their estimates on the historical distribution of marks in past matric exams, the proportion of the population enrolled for tertiary education and the fact that 30.6% of matriculants obtained university entrance passes that require a minimum of a 43% average.

Analysts agreed that while the standard of the matric exam papers was high and comparable to the best in the world, the pass marks were too low.

Professor Emeritus Johan Muller, a University of Cape Town education policy analyst, said: “The bar is too low. The exam paper is comparable, but our bar is lower than most countries in the world whose university entrance passes are set at 50% for all subjects.”

Education policy expert Graeme Bloch agreed, saying: “The pass marks are not sufficient but during my day, it was exactly the same. It’s wrong, but it doesn’t hold people from doing well.

“Parents want a 50% pass mark and I’m happy to go with that too.”

Aslam Fataar, a Stellenbosch University education policy researcher and deputy president of the SA Education Research Association, said he was all for an increase in pass marks, albeit gradually.

“It’s worth considering increasing the lowest pass mark of 30% by 5% every five years until we get to 50%,” he said.

In September, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga commissioned an investigation into raising the 30% pass requirement.

The findings are expected to be submitted in March.

The performance in key subjects for the 562?112 matric pupils of 2013 paints a depressing picture:

»?Of the 241?509 who wrote maths, only 63?034 (26.1%) passed with 50% or more;

»?Of the 184?383 who wrote physical science, 47?202 (25.6%) passed with 50% or higher;

»?Of the 301?718 who wrote life sciences, 83?576 (27.7%) scored 50% or more; and

»?Of the 454?666 who wrote English first additional language –?which is also the language of teaching and learning in most schools?–?only 118?213 (26%) scored 50% and above.

At the moment, a university entrance pass requires matriculants to obtain 50% in four subjects, at least 40% for their home language, 30% for the language of teaching and learning, and remaining subjects at 30%.

Motshekga told City Press that passing matric was much more difficult now than it had been in previous years.

The 2013 exam papers were quality assured and benchmarked by the board of Cambridge International Examinations, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and Australia’s Board of Studies New South Wales.

Cambridge has quality assured exams in Singapore, Mauritius and Botswana.

The SQA has worked with countries in central and eastern Europe, central and South America, the Middle East and other African countries.

Muller, Fataar and Bloch agreed that the exam standard was high, but that the pupils would not fare well because of poor teaching.

Analysts said it would take between 20 and 25 years to fix the education system and make it produce quality matriculants with the right pass marks.

Fataar said: “It takes a generation to fix it. An education system can’t be turned around in five or 10 years.

“Unfortunately, it takes a very short time to mess it up. There are no easy answers.”

Motshekga admitted that there were shortcomings in the system.

“There is a skills gap where most of our kids don’t measure up to the curriculum, international standards and when we compare ourselves to many countries in the world,” she said.

She added that her department was now working to improve it.

Muller and Bloch heaped praise on Motshekga.

“I think she is a good minister, she has the right ideas,” said Muller.

“She is on the right track,” said Bloch.

Statistician-General Pali Lehohla said: “Collectively we celebrate the pass rate, yet underneath that is a continuous undermining of what we want in society.”

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