Matrics decoded

2015-01-11 15:00

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Is SA producing quality matriculants and what do the numbers tell us about the state of education in the nation? Sipho Masondo asked a few experts in their fields for their assessments of the 2014 results

PROF MALEKGAPURU MAKGOBA

Outgoing vice-chancellor: University of KwaZulu-Natal

Makgoba said last year’s matric results were a clear indication that the education system was facing serious problems.

“These figures don’t tell a good story, they indicate the enormous challenge we face – to live up to our own goal that education must be an apex priority.”

The problem, says Makgoba, is that we, as a nation, are not prepared to make hard decisions.

“We think that by changing parameters or shifting goal posts we will get it right. These results are an indication of a system that has not stabilised,” he adds.

“If you have a 50% pass rate, it means you have taught 50% of the syllabus, or 50% of the kids were not in class. The same applies to a 75% pass rate.”

He said the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) was part of the problem.

“If I were the minister, I would ban Sadtu. Maybe ban is a strong word, but I would start having serious conversations with the union.”

MARY METCALFE

Professor of education at Wits

‘We must not be too absorbed in the small drop in the results. It is simply a realignment from the changes in format and content in key subjects. The basic architecture of our

National Senior Certificate performance is unchanged: 40% of cohorts reach the Grade 12 exam and, of these, about 70% succeed.

“Schools serving poorer communities do not do as well as schools serving wealthier communities – and there are inspiring cases of individuals and schools overcoming the odds.

“We need structural changes that include more young people into a sense of belonging and participation, earlier certification points that give a sense of achievement and a credential for those who don’t make Grade 12, strategies that improve the teaching of reading and numeracy from foundation phase, and to reduce the wastage of failure and repetition that takes root from primary school.

“This will improve quality – but more importantly, build confidence and learning the new skills that our rapidly changing world will require. We need a better functioning system so that we can be confident of pupils who will have the values and attitudes to sustain an inclusive democracy.”

HERMAN MASHABA

Nonexecutive director: Black Like Me

‘I have mixed emotions. Our kids are making progress, but as a nation, we are not doing well academically. The number of matriculants who qualify for university entrance is not satisfactory. From an international point of view, we are not doing well.”

Mashaba said the country was in desperate need of executives to run corporations, such as Eskom and Transnet, and the economy at large.

“Where will they come from if we have few people entering university?”

He also lamented the fact that fewer and fewer pupils were taking gateway subjects such as maths, and physical and natural sciences. “Any country that wants to be a serious player in the global economy churns out thousands of maths and science graduates every year. But if you don’t have people taking up such subjects, there will be no PhDs. I don’t know if you understand how serious this is. It’s a matter of life and death.

“We need lots and lots of Early Childhood Development Centres. Once we start educating our kids at that level, we will reap the benefits at Grade 12.”

MATANZIMA MWELI

Acting deputy director-general for curriculum, policy, support and monitoring: Department of basic education

‘These are a very good set of results if we consider it’s the first time we implemented the new curriculum.

“Remember Umalusi had predicted a 5 percentage point decline. Other experts had predicted a drop of between 6?percentage points and 7 percentage points. But it turned out to be a 2.5 percentage point drop.”

Although the number of people achieving university entrance has dropped, from 30% in 2013 to 28% in 2014, Mweli said the quality of passes had increased.

“The number of people achieving distinctions in a number of subjects has shot up.”

He said if the first class to write matric under the new curriculum achieved 75.4%, that should be interpreted to mean the pass rate will increase in the next few years as teachers and pupils start getting to grips with the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (Caps).

“The Caps is the best curriculum we have given this country since 1994. We are now getting things right in the system.”

PROF SARAH GRAVETT

Executive dean of the Faculty of Education: University of Johannesburg

‘It would be prudent to point out that the decrease in the pass rate has to do with KwaZulu-Natal. That province contributes a huge number of matrics every year. And, of course, many of us expected a decrease in the pass mark due to the implementation of the new curriculum.

“Mind you, when you implement something new, there is always instability and insecurities as people don’t know what to expect. There was also a change in the content of maths. The general structure of the exams was changed, with some subjects coming with a high cognitive level.”

The move to Caps was good and welcomed, she said, adding that problems could arise as teachers try to find their way around the curriculum.

“Understandably, there is always a hype around the matric results, but we need to understand that matric is the culmination of 12 years of schooling.

“If you want a good showing, especially in key subjects like maths and science, you need the building blocks as early as Grade R.”

BISHOP NJONGONKULU NDUNGANE

Civil society leader and archbishop of the Anglican Church

‘While we congratulate those who passed, we should not forget there are serious problems. A significant number of pupils who started Grade 1

12 years ago are nowhere to be found. What happened to them?”

Ndungane also questioned the quality of the education system. “Are we happy with the quality of education we are giving our children? Is it the best we can give them?” If he were minister, Ndungane said, he would make sure that from Grade 1, pupils were equipped with critical thinking skills, which would make them cope beyond matric.

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