A pass can be a fail

2012-01-07 16:39

About 25% of Grade 12 learners who passed matric in 2011 will have little to show for 12 years of study as their certificates “won’t get them far”.

Dr Martin Prew, director of the Centre for Education Policy Development in Johannesburg, welcomed the pass rate of 70.2% but decried the “limited” alternatives to going to university for learners who passed with low marks – particularly with the unemployment lines already overflowing.

Of the 348 117 learners who passed matric in 2011, 35% qualify to study towards degrees, 41% are able to pursue diploma studies and almost 25% obtained higher certificate passes, which provide limited options for studying certificate courses at universities of technology, or can give learners access to colleges.

Even though 262?351 of the matrics who passed (close to 76%) qualify for degree or diploma studies, the country’s universities can only accomm-odate 180 000 first years. Furthermore, many won’t qualify for university because of unsuitable subject combinations or low marks.

Dr Diane Parker, acting director-general in the Department of Higher Education, said 168 408 students studied for the first time in 2010.

Prew estimates that half those who passed the most recent matric exams may not get a chance to study further.

“For 50% life is going to be difficult. Some of them have something to look forward to as their families may be running businesses, but for many learners, options are limited and we need to expand these options,” he said.

Prew rejected suggestions by various bodies, including Equal Education, that the pass mark of 30% for subjects such as maths was too low.

Martin Gustafsson, an adviser to the department of education and an educational economist at Stellenbosch University, also defended the 30% pass mark, saying Umalusi, the country’s standards authority for schools, ensured that standards were kept high and exams “rigorous”, which made obtaining a 30% pass mark difficult.

Prew urged learners to consider these options:

» Approach a Sector Education and Training Authority and find out about funded courses.

» Apply for an internship or voluntarily work at a business. Applicants need to show a “willingness” to work. “Voluntary work gets you into the job market, even if the work doesn’t pay,” said Prew.

» Start a small business. This is the most difficult choice to make as in most cases entrepreneurship requires financial assistance.
“We don’t encourage entrepreneurship enough in the education system,” said Prew.

» Apply at Further Education and Training (FET) colleges for an option that suits your abilities.

However, Gustafsson said enrolling at FET colleges may be difficult as the new requirements for study at FET colleges introduced two years ago were demanding.

“Learners who did not do well at school struggle at FET colleges, even if they’ve passed Grade 12. FETs now have tough, academic courses,” said Gustafsson.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s drive to promote these colleges – which provide technical training for skills needed to grow the economy – as an alternative to universities has been struggling to gain momentum.

Last year only 55 285 students enrolled at FET colleges. Nzimande wants this number to reach one million by 2015.

FETs face serious curriculum challenges, as well as the poor standard of training and expertise of some lecturers, said Dylan Wray, director of Shikaya, a non-profit organisation that develops teachers.

“Even if, by some miracle, one million students enrol in FETs by 2015, you do not solve the bigger problems. All you have is students with no job opportunities,” Wray said. – Additional reporting by Carien Kruger and Erna van Wyk

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