Matrics will pass in record numbers

2014-01-05 14:00

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Pass rate has been on the rise, but critics are wary of hailing the education system a success.

Champagne corks may be popping while Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announces the results of the country’s 707?136 matric candidates tomorrow afternoon.

She is expected to announce a pass rate at least 2% higher than 2012’s 73.9%, pushing the figure above 75% for the first time since 1980.

But experts say our school-leavers are not ready for the demands of a modern economy, in which mining and manufacturing are shrinking, but technology and financial services are growing rapidly.

These figures show why:

»?Only 10% of top matrics accepted at the universities of Stellenbosch, Pretoria and Cape Town last year wanting to study courses such as engineering or medicine, for which maths is a requirement, were “proficient” in the subject, according to the latest results of the National Benchmark Test (NBT) project.

The NBT project tests thousands of prospective students every year before they start their tertiary courses.

More than 60?000 candidates wrote the NBTs before their studies in 2013, and more than half obtained less than 34% for maths and would therefore not have been able to continue on a course in which maths formed an important part.

In the category for academic literacy, which tests aspects such as reading and comprehension, only 30% had sufficient skills to study further without support;

»?An increasing number of matrics select maths literacy rather than maths. Only 121?970 pupils out of the 1?006?358 pupils who started school in 2002 passed maths last year; and

»?Of those who take maths, very few do well – between 2008 and 2011, the percentage of matriculants who obtained more than 70% for maths fell from 8.3% to 5.9%, the SA Institute of Race Relations found last year.

In 2011, only 13?223 of the nearly 500?000 matriculants obtained more than 70% for maths.

This predicts a workforce that in many respects will not be able to cope.

“We are in trouble, especially with maths and science. This is aggravated by mathematical literacy, which is worthless for science and mathematics careers,” says Basil Manuel, the president of teachers’ union Naptosa.

“The big question is whether we will be able to meet the country’s future need for engineers, accountants and entrepreneurs with the quality of our current school and examination system,” he said.

Yet, in the midst of these depressing maths figures, the matriculants “perform” better every year if one looks at the pass rate, which was 62.5% in 2008, reaching 73.9% last year.

“If there are large improvements in the pass, especially more than five percentage points, we must ask ourselves how such an improvement is possible,” says Nicholas Spaull, a Stellenbosch University economist and education specialist.

“Is the improvement the result of pupils who take easier subjects, like maths literacy instead of maths?” he asked.

Dr Theuns Eloff, the Vice-Chancellor of North-West University and chairman of Higher Education South Africa, says the increasing pass rate is deceiving.

“We view the growing success rate with scepticism. If it’s true that it is increasing because the level of education is increasing, that’s a good thing, but there are many indications that this is not the case,” he said.

Spaull says it is a matter of concern that so few matrics obtain university entrance passes since tertiary studies are a key component in the fight against unemployment.

“The unemployment rate among graduates in South Africa is only about 5%, while the broad unemployment rate is now 25%,” Spaull said.

But the department insists progress is being made.

Motshekga’s spokesperson, Troy Martens, said: “If you look at the results over the years, you can see there have never been so many pupils who pass with exemption.

There are also more pupils taking mathematics now than ever before, so I’m not sure where the critics get their data.”

Motshekga will announce the 2013 pass rate on SABC1 tomorrow at 4pm, and matrics will receive their results on Tuesday.

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